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Sounds Like Teen Spirit

A life-affirming look at the at the Junior Eurovision song contest.

Writer and director Jamie J Johnson has so far made his living making documentaries about, what he calls, “lovable losers” (MiniGolf the (Mini) Movie, anyone?), and the tag is applied here again to Sounds Like Teen Spirit, which follows four 10- to 15-year-old entrants in Junior Eurovision 2008. Despite my initial trepidation, the big surprise for me was the disparity on every level between today's Eurovison proper – a car crash high-camp-fest that is nevertheless taken inordinately seriously by the talentless idiots involved (bar Sebastian Tellier, of course ...) – and the juniors, all of whom, for the most part, put their adult equivalents to shame due to their humility, humour, intelligence, and the fact that they write the songs they perform (some of which are actually pretty good).

The likeability of 15-year-old Lauren, drummer in Belgium's Trust (whose hormones are running so wild he's struggling to keep it in his trousers), and 14-year-old Marina, part of the Bulgaria's entry Bon Bon (whose ennui-tinged philosophising on her parents' separation is at times heartbreaking) certainly highlight Johnson's talent for getting the best out of his subjects. But even he must have been thanking his lucky stars when he encountered 10-year-old Giorgos from Greece who, despite being bullied at school and called gay because of his singing talent, is possibly the funniest (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), honest and most optimistic boy you could hope to meet.

It is the charming Mariam, the Georgian entry, however who has the most compelling story. Unsurprisingly, given her family's great hardships, (such as her family's evacuation from their home in Gori after Russians took hold of the town during the 2008 conflict), she has a maturity that belies her 13 years, and yet possesses so much hope. One of the film's many highlights is undoubtedly her sheer joy at being awarded fourth place, making her a national treasure in her country overnight – the gravity of which is highlighted further as we witness her extended family, who could not afford to go to Rotterdam with her, watching the competition in a sparse back room on a fuzzy, barely-working TV. Their pride is palpable.

Johnson's film is a warm, witty, clever, life-affirming, and at times unflinching look at the trials of being a teenager. While he may have gone looking for losers, in the end he found just the opposite.

On limited release from May 8.
Director Jamie J Johnson and producer Elizabeth Karlsen will be discussing the making of the film at Regent Street Apple Store on May 6 at 5.00pm.

In addition Jamie J Johnson has also collaborated with friend Tatty Devine to make some promotional 'backstage pass' Sounds Like Teen Spirit bangles that can only be won via Tatty Devine's blog