“I just don’t want to grow up,” says the girl in Terence Brown’s documentary "The Before Project," which takes a poignant and sometimes painful look at our fleeting childhood through the eyes of fifth-graders at Seattle’s Loyal Heights Elementary School.
Brown interviewed the school’s graduating class of 50 kids, trying to capture what it's like to be 11 and about to go off to middle school. He told Jeannie Yandel of KUOW’s The Record that despite the kids’ tender age, “There wasn’t nearly the confusion that I might have expected.”
“There was still some awkwardness, there was still some of that in-between-ness,” he said. “But there was a lot of poise and a lot of self-realization, self-actualization that maybe I didn’t expect at that age.”
He said one example was an exchange with a girl who he said often hemmed and hawed in his interview with her. Until he asked her one question: Do you think life is fair?
Asked that, she was direct: “No.”
“And it wasn’t pessimistic, it wasn’t self-pitying, it was just this sense of, ‘No, life’s not fair,’” he said.
Brown said the kids had the typical goofiness that you’d expect at that age.
“There were other moments that were really powerful, because they really do have a much better understanding of themselves, where they exist in this world,” he said.
So after making this movie, does Brown think it’s hard to be 11 years old?
“Yes, because there are a lot of unknowns, because you are beginning to think about a lot of bigger questions that involve you personally and to a greater extent the world,” he said.
“You might be old enough to fear things like global warming or your own mortality things at a more complex level than when you were 5 years old, but you still don’t necessarily have the tools to make sense of that.
“I think at 11 years old you can start waxing nostalgic about being a child, and some of the kids do, because it’s a turning point.”
So what does Brown know now about being 11 that he didn’t know before he made the movie?
“I think that a lot of these kids really understand not only the world around them but themselves a little bit more than we might give them credit for,” he said.
“They're still very much kids. They’re still very much into Nickelodeon and Fruit Gushers … But there's this really interesting, turbulent life that’s going on.”
“There was a lot going on back then for all of us,” he said, “and I think all of us probably should give ourselves more credit for what we were experiencing at that age.”
“The Before Project” by Seattle filmmaker Terence Brown screens at the Gig Harbor Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17. You can view the film for free at its site.