By Don Simpson | March 3, 2012
Directors: Elizabeth Mims, Jason Tippet
Canyon Country is a suburban community located within the municipality of Santa Clarita in Northwestern Los Angeles County. Back when Canyon Country was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, I imagine it was probably a pretty nice place (if you like suburbia, that is), but in the last few years economic devastation has transformed Canyon Country into a post-apocalyptic ghost town. Garrison, Kevin and Skye are three high school kids who are stuck in this hellhole, but maybe that is why they have chosen to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior…more about that later.
Garrison and Kevin are skate rats who are also best friends. They don classic punk rock t-shits (Crass!!!!) and apparently change their hair color and styles every day. Garrison and Kevin are still immature enough that they have a difficult time ingratiating Skye into their daily routine. This is mostly because jealousy rears its ugly head in practically every scene — all three of the teens are guilty of it. See, in typical high school fashion, Skye likes Garrison and Garrison kind of likes Skye; but they have never actually consummated their “liking each other” with a kiss. Nonetheless, the sexual tension between them is unmistakable and it is pretty clear that they are destined to be more than just friends. Garrison is pretty clueless when it comes to romance; so instead of dating Skye, he decides to date someone who is not like him, a hip hop dancer named Kristen. When Kristen enters the equations, the jealous-tinged tension gets even more combustive. And its not like these teens really needed all of this high school drama weighing on their minds, because they have a lot more significant stuff to worry about — such as their families possibly losing their Canyon Country homes.
Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s film is kind of like a punk rock Real World but more gritty and authentic; and like Real World, authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. Some viewers will accept Only the Young as fact, while others will probably believe that it is fiction. Only the Young blurs the definition of Documentary filmmaking. My best guess is that Mims and Tippet had a directorial influence on some of the on screen events; some scenes seem a little too perfectly framed and choreographed for there not to have been some direction taking place. Also, the narrative is so strong and prevalent, that it is clear that Mims and Tippet sculpted this story from a significantly larger chunk of footage. But, then again, just because Only the Young premiered at True/False Film Festival does not mean that Mims and Tippet consider it to be a documentary film. Between the words “true” and “false” is an entire spectrum, and Only the Young falls somewhere along that spectrum. Most surprisingly, the fictional influences do not lessen the impact of Only the Young, if anything those tropes are utilized to heighten the film’s sense of realism.
In the end, Only the Young works extremely well as a visual essay on post-suburbia, contemplating the effects that regional economic downturns have on the teenagers that are left floundering in the wake. The role that religion plays in this scenario is also fascinating. We rarely hear the teenagers talk about their spiritual beliefs; yet they do talk about going to church, and we see them with their skateboarding church group. Religion seems to be keeping the teens on the straight and narrow; they appear to be staying clear of thievery, drugs and violence, thus avoiding the legal troubles that are typically associated with “at risk” teens.
As a teen, I was a skate rat with ever-varying hairstyles and the finest in punk rock couture who also was a member of a Christian youth group (Young Life), so I can wholeheartedly relate to some of what Garrison and Kevin are going through. I still don’t know how I could be simultaneously drawn to skating (or SK8ing) and Young Life. Maybe I was too naive to recognize that the music I listened to existed in opposition to the religious ideology I was following, or maybe I just did not care. Both skating and religion provided me with friends, and I think that is all I needed at that time. Today I still have the music and I also have some really amazing memories from the years that I skated. Sure, I made some really immature decisions over those years and definitely lived up to the skate rat name; but I was also incredibly innocent — not unlike Garrison and Kevin.