Shout It Out: The Voices Project Movie

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Bess O’Brien
Kingdom County Productions
90 minutes. DVD, two study guides, one CD soundtrack: $150.

Based on interviews with a thousand Vermont teenagers about their lives, “The Voices Project” is a live musical that toured the state in 2005. Featuring songs by young songwriters, this Vermont-grown production earned rave reviews as its young performers presented the real high school scene to their communities. Now this grassroots project’s energetic film adaptation reaches wider audiences with nearly 100 teen actors, singers and dancers.

Life in a rural Vermont high school is framed through the camera of Naomi, who is working on a “Secret Lives of Teenagers” video project. As she asks her fellow students to introduce themselves on camera, they reveal more than they intend. Artistic Sarah is always popping pills and going home alone to receive her mother’s long-distance calls. Star athlete Colby’s sleeve rolls up by accident, exposing his cutting scars. Sweethearts Rachel and Jesse agonize over Rachel’s pregnancy – and Jesse can’t tell her that his alcoholic dad beats his mother. Poet Ethan wins a college scholarship, but his widowed dad needs him to work on the farm.

Saving to attend MIT, Tom works two jobs and stoically endures constant harassment for being gay. Fun-loving freshman Zac worries when his best pal Danny becomes a target for bullies. Top student Daria, the school’s only black girl in “the whitest state in the nation,” copes with thoughtless racist comments.

Beyond these tough truths, the film celebrates friendship, first love, fun, creativity, and the excitement of anticipating the future. Music and dancing emphasize changing moods. Payton croons an ode to his beloved cell phone. Ethan joyfully sings of his awakening love for Daria as he drives his truck with a trio of harmonizing girls in the back. Sarah pleads for better communication with parents: “We won’t always agree, but I’ll listen to you if you listen to me.”

Stressed either by parents’ lack of attention or pressure to succeed, these teens hide their concerns from adults. Even caring parents miss a great deal. One teacher does try to help, offering support to Justin, a foster care runaway who lives by the river, and Vita, a heavy girl who loves to dance. Then the suicide of one of the students – based on an actual incident – brings a shocking climax that opens the door to this community’s healing.

These ordinary young people’s authenticity hits home. Like the highs and lows of teens themselves, “Shout It Out” is both sobering and uplifting. It’s a powerful package that could compel schools and communities to engage with their youth.

Director/producer Bess O’Brien says she made the film to give teenagers “a platform to speak the truth of their lives.” As young viewers “feel heard [and] bolstered,” O’Brien hopes that adults will learn from these personal stories so that the movie “will be a jumping-off point for dialogue between adults and teens.”

An excellent 35-page study guide offers advice on how to use the film with teens and adults – recommending that the two groups discuss it separately at first, with local resources and counseling available. Reproducible handouts with discussion questions, writing exercises, tips for local action, a tutorial on active listening, and lists of educational standards and online resources are included. (802) 592-3190, http://www.kingdomcounty.com.