Sundance 2021: Cusp, Street Gang, Philly D.A. | Festivals & Awards

Hill and Bethencourt open their film with an interesting shot of two teenage girls on a swing taking selfies while two boys nearby shoot guns. Image and violence wed in the tone-setting prologue, while also making clear how unconsidered both are in this moment. It’s just a lazy day in Texas. For the next 90 minutes, Hill and Bethencourt capture many other lazy days in the lives of Autumn, Brittney, and Aaloni, often revealing things about their pasts and potential futures through interviews, but also often just seen going about average adolescence.

Many of the conversations in “Cusp” center on violence. At parties, people talk about how someone they know raped someone, but that’s just the kind of guy he is. The casual nature in which sexual violence is a part of these lives may be startling to some, but it’s a tragic fabric of this country that often gets softened when we discuss what it means to be a teenager. Autumn, Brittney, and Aaloni allow the filmmakers remarkable access to their lives, often detailing abuse from their pasts and discussing the boys they know. We get to know these three and come to care about their emotions—for example, it’s heartbreaking when Autumn’s boyfriend breaks up with her, the honest emotion coming right off the screen.

A fascinating dichotomy comes into light in “Cusp” in that these three young women are so confident and powerful in their own personalities, and yet they exist in a world that doesn’t hear them and threatens them at all times. The filmmakers smartly look below the superficial image of teenagers who do little other than get drunk and high, instead finding the vulnerable people underneath.

A very different kind of documentary unfolds in “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which lovingly recounts the creation of one of the most important forces in culture, borne from wondering if TV could educate children instead of just selling to them. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Davis, Marilyn Agrelo’s film focuses on the formative days of “Sesame Street” from inception through mini-bios of its major players like Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Joe Raposo, and Christopher Cerf. It’s a remarkably likable documentary that will air on HBO later this year, but it does feel like it’s barely scratching the surface of the many stories that could be told about this production. In an era when almost every TV docuseries could have just been a film, this is the rare case wherein a film could have easily been a series. By jumping from subject to subject so quickly, “Street Gang” sometimes feels like it has the attention span of the target audience of the show it chronicles.

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