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In the tradition of Stand by Me, director Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) chronicles the lives of three inseparable twelve-year-olds (Conor Donovan, Zoe Weizenbaum, Jesse Camacho) as they navigate the dark side of suburbia. Sparked by the tragic, unintended death of one's twin brother at the malicious hands of local bullies, the trio of adolescents band together as they grapple with feelings of revenge, the burden of grief, issues of self-esteem and the indelible experiences of growing up. Co-starring Annabella Sciorra and Jeremy Renner.

 Our Children

I always read in books about the movie business or hear from people in the movie business that you shouldn’t make movies about kids. Unless it’s a Disney G-rated movie or a PG-13 movie where the morals are clear, and the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn, you shouldn’t be making it. I think it’s a sad state of affairs when the idea is to simplify everything and not make movies about kids that have shades of gray to the story. Kids should see Twelve and Holding; it’s about them.

If the MPAA slaps it with an R rating, then their parents can take them. The question is, are the parents really there to talk to their kids about the movie? Are they there to help them navigate the complexity of pre-teen/teen sexuality, self-esteem and intense feelings of vengeance? That’s one of many themes that drew me to the story of Twelve and Holding—the gap that’s created when adults are wrapped up in their own grief and insecurities and their kids are left solely to navigate those same feelings.

The night after I read the script for Twelve and Holding, written by Anthony Cipriano, I had a dream. I dreamt I was blocking out and photographing several scenes from the script. It was incredibly vivid—an out of body experience where I saw myself talking to the young actors, looking through the camera and setting up a shot.

By the middle of the next day I found I wasn’t able to shake the story, or my dream. It made me think of a short film my father made when I was a kid called Our Children. The film was about the effect the Vietnam War was having on our children and parents. The film crosscut suburban moms talking and disagreeing about the war with children playing war with wooden swords. It showed the children picking sides and battling it out. Their little war ends when the smallest, most defenseless kid gets a bloody nose. The oldest kid then decides they should end the war, throw down their swords and go home. It then cuts back to the adults continuing to argue and disagree on the war. I guess nothing changes. The film was made in 1968 when the kids were figuring it out for themselves. In Twelve and Holding, the kids are figuring it out for themselves and we seem to be fighting that same war.

I’ve always been drawn to movies that have an indelible effect on their viewer. In my opinion, movies should illuminate, challenge, provoke, haunt, all that stuff that makes you think. I remember a conversation with “an important person in the business” where they said “movies should be made for entertainment purposes only, books are for enlightenment” and that “cynics make arthouse movies, message movies.” Does this person think people are stupid? What a drab, cynical view of the world it is when you think that people can’t be open to “arthouse” or “message movies.” I think as filmmakers our responsibility is to point at the wounds in society, no matter how abhorrent or grotesque. I don’t think that’s cynical at all.

Friends and industry people wonder why I’m drawn to “dark stories.” I don’t see my stories as dark. I see them as real. Those stories may be difficult and not right for everyone but a good story is a good story regardless of whether or not it’s dark or uplifting. I think we all want things that are life affirming in some way and mainstream cinema tends to make happy endings to get there. For me, it can be happy, sad, disturbing, depressing, whatever, as long as it’s a good story and makes us think a little. And I think kids should participate in that. Why not? Maybewith a little help from grown-ups they could better understand what they’re watching or, maybe, they’ll understand it better than us.