In a youth-club gym, a teenage girl dumps food on the floor. To the sound of Norwegian duo Smerz's bass-heavy pop tune "Because," we are treated to a sped-up, overhead shot showing flour, salad dressing, pickled beets, lettuce, creampuffs and watermelon skilfully spread in a chaotic pattern, as the girl laughs and her girlfriends cheer from the bench.
The session is broken when a teacher comes in. "What the hell is going on here? What's this?" "Dadaism. Like, anti-art," one of the girls says. "Totally dope, right?" "No, I really don't think so," the teacher says, annoyed.
This scene from Annika Berg's first feature, "Team Hurricane," about eight teenage girls and their summer at a youth club, encapsulates the film's message: girls blossom when they get to make some noise, experiment and have unrestrained fun. The director describes the film as a "punk chick flick" aiming to show beauty in the rough – like food art or teenage girls being too loud and "too much."
"With this film I want to examine something that's not perfect: young women who are loud, awkward and vulgar and say the wrong thing at the wrong time," Berg says. "When I was in my teens, I began to act more controlled and censor a lot of sides of myself that I didn't like or found embarrassing. I got very self-conscious and felt like I was taking up too much space. I think a lot of women share that feeling."
"Team Hurricane" by Annika Berg. Photo: Louise McLaughlin
Suppressing or being ashamed of your true self is dangerous, the director says.
"If you don't get rid of the aggressions you're always experiencing as a human being, I think you start turning the violence in on yourself. It's important to have outlets."
The Aesthetics of Teenage Awkwardness
Berg graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 2015 with her film "SIA," a poetic documentary portrait of a 93-year-old woman on what may be her last day in her sprawling, palatial apartment.
Working on that film made her examine her own aesthetic, which bears the marks of the same youth-idealising imagery that everyone is bombarded with, and find beauty in old age. The longer she looked at Sia, the lovelier the texture of the old woman's skin looked. Later, when she was developing "Team Hurricane," Berg made herself look at videos of herself as a teen.
"Looking at myself was really unpleasant. I thought I was extremely annoying and loud. But then, suddenly, I could see the beauty in the energy and riotousness I saw, and I came to love it. I think you should choose your own expression and cultivate it. I hope the film will inspire girls to be themselves," Berg says.
The eight girls in the film are definitely worth being inspired by, she says. Berg found the girls on social media and used video assignments, auditions and workshops to put together her cast of expressive, artistically intelligent girls. The film grew out of a blend of Berg's own experiences, input from the girls and the dynamic that emerged among them, and between them and the director. To make the dialogue authentic, Berg didn't write any lines but let the girls use their own words. While the film shows the girls having fun, they also go into heavy issues like eating disorders, depression and self-hatred.
"During the creative process, we talked a lot about how we all had to be brave and show our vulnerability," she says.
"I think you get a lot of confidence from finding the aesthetic of your own vulnerability and integrate it into your self-image and other people's perception of you, and not censor out the imperfections."
"Team Hurricane" by Annika Berg. Photo: Louise McLaughlin
Patchwork of Visual Impressions
The film is made up of moments, rather than telling a traditional plot-oriented narrative. "That's the most real thing to do in terms of how teenagers are," Berg says. "Teens don't see the big picture, and their mood changes from one moment to the next."
Such rapid changes are also manifested in the film's patchwork aesthetic, which mixes regular scenes with video diaries and music-video-style segments featuring fast cuts and popping colours.
"It was important for me to be open to what the girls were giving me – the music videos they sent me, how they texted their boyfriends and friends and the whole pace at which they experience the world, which is way different from mine. They scroll down a site and get a hundred visual impressions in ten minutes. I tried to embed the rhythm of their lives in the film's DNA," Berg says.
As she sees it, not enough films dare take young people seriously or use them as co-storytellers. Making the film, she got amazing results by simply giving her actors a camera or asking them to do the credits.
"These young ladies are so cool and confident. A lot more than I ever was. Even so, I don't think they have enough confidence in how awesome they really are. I certainly didn't 'rescue' them in any way – it was probably them who rescued me – but I hope and I believe that it does make a big difference to young people's self-esteem when adults take their aesthetics and their abilities seriously."
Feeling the Subject in Your Heart
At a time when gender statistics are adding fuel to the equality debate in the film industry, it's worth noting that the entire team that made this film – the sound designer, director, producer, editor, director of photography and production designer – are women. Is that a political statement?
Not at all. But for Berg it makes artistic sense to hire women to make a film about female issues.
"Like the rest of the team, my DP, Louise McLaughlin, was the best qualified person for the job. But I also think it's important that a cinematographer, deep down in her heart, can relate to the things in the film that hurt. Since this is a film about teenage girls, I think the best qualified director of photography is a woman. She knows what is painful, the look that reveals it and, in turn, what to film," Berg says •
About the film
The film is directed by Annika Berg and produced by Katja Adomeit for Adomeit Film with support from the Danish Film Institute. LevelK is handling international sales.
Cinematographer Louise McLaughlin and editor Sofie Marie Kristensen graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 2015 with Annika Berg. Together they made their graduation film, "SIA."
"Team Hurricane" is world premiering in the Venice Film Festival's International Film Critics' Week (30 August – 9 September).