As the sun begins to set, a bustling crowd eagerly gathers outside the Mitchell Park Community Center on Sept. 19. The sound of quiet chatter coincides with cordial greetings as flyers are passed out, which detail a new documentary centered in Palo Alto. As the lights dim both outside and in, the last few guests rush into the community center and grab some seats to view the second free showing of teen documentary Unmasked.
Unmasked is a film based on mental health in Palo Alto high schools. Following tragedies at both Palo Alto High School and Gunn High School, current seniors Christian Leong and Andrew Baer set out to respond to this series of suicides. After gathering a team of 13 high school students, the group set out on their mission and spent their summer interviewing, editing and filming.
Unmasked explores many aspects of teen life, including peer pressure, depression, and anxiety. It features a protagonist who details his thoughts in a journal and is donned a white mask, adding an interesting effect. The 35 minute documentary offers intriguing solutions regarding reducing student stress and preventing teen suicide.
Overall Unmasked was very well made. The film’s editing was near-perfect and flowed terrifically, and was of a very high quality in general. In addition, the documentary displayed a huge variety of opinions, ranging from those of students and teachers to the parents of suicide victims. These different perspectives added a fascinating and much-needed diversity. Background music and several video clips added texture, while interlacing footage of the Palo Alto community provided some nice context of the film’s location.
I still had several problems with the documentary. In a way, it seemed to dramatize depression and mental disorders, which I do not believe is a step in the right direction. In addition, the story’s protagonists were often shown wearing white masks — A metaphor to explain hiding one’s true emotions. While the metaphor was excellent, the masks were admittedly very creepy and several scenes looked as if they were taken directly from a horror movie.
Other than these few aspects, Unmasked was a huge success in nearly every way. Amazing directing, editing and filming combined with interesting and thought-provoking quotes make this documentary impossible to forget.
Review by Aidan Maese-Czeropski
Photos by Adrienne Kwok