Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Marina Baltadzi

Director: Jamie J Johnson

Debut feature-length director Jamie J Johnson candidly captures the spirit of the children of Europe in this documentary about Junior Eurovision. Totally honest and unwittingly hilarious, this heart-warming crowd pleaser couldn’t fail to appeal to the vast majority, despite being about a subject most people wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

So – yes, you did read it right – a junior version of Eurovision does exist. And just when you thought the world couldn’t possibly get any more screwed up! The documentary follows four main entrants to 2007’s Junior Eurovision, 10 year-old Giorgos from Cyprus, Marina, 14 from Bulgaria, Georgia’s 13 year-old Mariam and 15 year-old Laurens from Belgium.

Adorable and lively Giorgos is bullied at school for his passion for singing but has a loving and supportive family behind him. Marina is a rich kid but details the breakdown of her parents’ relationship and the abandonment of her father with a child’s searing pragmatism. From the other side of the tracks completely is Mariam, whose family have had to flee their basic home in Gori, Georgia several times during the various civil conflicts. And Laurens, from the Belgian band Trust, has trouble keeping his eye on the camera when anything in a skirt floats past.

It’s not just the kids who are unintentionally amusing. The show’s presenters look like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on tour. One female presenter, looking like some kind of blue fairy cake confection, even declares she’s so excited she might wet herself.

But almost equally striking is the apparent fact that the kids don’t seem to have pushy parents. They write the music themselves and seem to be genuinely having the time of their lives.

The documentary is nicely structured so that we get to know the kids via pre-interviews with them in their home towns and during the build up to the big night in Rotterdam. BAFTA and Grierson nominated documentary director Jaime Johnson displays a quietly familiar presence with the kids in order to gain this revealing portrait, skilfully capturing the off-the-cuff sincerity that often only kids can give. Inviting comparisons with Nick Broomfield, Johnson seems to be carving out a nice little niche for himself with comic but warm-hearted documentaries about that favoured old British topic, the underdog.

So don’t overlook this well and humanly crafted doc because you think it’s just about kids. It’s a celebration of life, innocence and fun.

One can only imagine what Terry Wogan would make of it all.

5 out of 6 stars

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