What resulted is the poignant 37-minute film Before, which, since being released last year, has screened at a handful of film festivals around the country and won a prize at the Seattle International Children’s Film Festival.
The fifth-graders interviewed open up about bullying, physical disabilities, friends, cancer, romance, terrorists and global warming.
“I don’t want to grow up,” confesses one girl. “Most people don’t actually believe anything I’m saying,” shares a boy.
“At this age, they are primed for big questions,” says Brown, who in the film asks kids whether they would stay a child if they could, if they’ve had a crush on anyone, what their perfect day would be like and if there is anything going on in the world that really scares them.
Brown was interested in capturing the “limbo state” between childhood and adulthood, a time when kids are aware of how they are changing or that they are about to, but not necessarily fully equipped to process it.
“This is one of the most fleeting times in life,” says Brown, who remembers when he was 11 in Nebraska, listening unself-consciously to Billy Joel and Loverboy. “I didn’t know what was coming,” he says.
Brown filmed and edited the project in a way that connects kids — all classmates of his son’s — through similarities, rather than emphasizing differences or promoting stereotypes.
“It was really important to me that I presented them as true to who they were as individuals and also capture something bigger than any one kid, to capture the universality and humanity of the age,” he says.
The film can be viewed for free on the project’s website.
Brown, who makes a living creating films for foundations, plans to stream Before for free permanently. “If kids feel like they are being seen,” he says, “that’s all that matters.”
Watch the trailer below or the whole film here.
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