Seventeen: Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’s Ferocious Documentary

Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’s Seventeen, a ferociously provocative documentary records a story that lacks narrative shape, but has vitality and honesty.

The film was not originally intended for theatrical distribution. It was one of six documentaries to be broadcast under the collective title of “Middletown,” each looking at some aspect of life in Muncie, Indiana. However, “Seventeen” became the only docu not to be shown on PBS, due to harsh language and the story of a romance of a 17 year-old white girl named Lynn and a young black man.

The story starts to get nasty when a cross is burned in Lynn’s front yard, and when she begins to get threatening phone calls. Seventeen comes most effectively to life in its candid description of emotional confusion and anxiety.

The film refuses to observe the niceties of sit-com land, where everything comes out happily in the end. The footage is raw, and not easily coherent. The directors have not attempted to impose some arbitrary order on the events they witnessed just in order to make the work more “shapely.”

Disturbing and provocative, Seventeen doesn’t provide answers or make judgments–the directors leave the interpretation up to the viewers. They argue that they recorded what they saw, but the audiences can never be sure to what extent the actions of the subjects were influenced by the presence of the camera.