17/03/2015 17:50 GMT | Updated 17/05/2015 06:12 BST

Unlikely Coming Of Age Movies


I never used to think of myself as a 'film person'. Growing up, I had a minimal movie diet and even TV sessions were scarce as I spent more time talking to the cat, climbing trees and bullying my brother.

As an adult, I somehow entered the film world as a movie blogger, VOD marketer and now a film festival programmer. I felt like a puppy in a wolf pack as colleagues reeled off their encyclopaedic knowledge of highbrow directors and Hollywood blockbusters. I soon pined for a childhood of being yanked to the cinema over a history of fighting car sickness as I read Matilda in the back of mum's car as we drove to another festival. We just weren't film people, or so I thought.

I'm currently exploring coming of age films for my film festival The Bechdel Test Fest which has got me thinking about how we understand the world though the university of Hollywood. When asking myself - what have I learnt through cinema? I thought of my tree-climbing, cat-whispering days expecting to draw a blank. Now in a meditative state of film worship I've proven myself wrong and it's apparent that even on those meagre cinematic servings of my childhood, movies have managed to penetrate my psyche and untangle many baffling emotions.

Coming of age movies aren't always the ones that provide a cookie cut of your youth with a sugary coat. Sometimes it's the ones that pop the cherry in an emotion you didn't think you had in you and we can gain some lifelong lessons from some unlikely films.

I remember going to see Jurassic Park at the Rio cinema in Dalston. Growing up in a Hackney not yet accustomed to the delights of a £4 cup of coffee, you would have thought I was used to living in fear, but not even seeing your neighbours on Crimewatch could recreate the terror of that T-Rex gnashing its toothy chops. Now that was fear.

It seemed Raising Arizona (Coen Bros) was always on Channel 4, or maybe it simply bewitched me every time it aired. I couldn't recall the plot but the score, the mood and the performances from Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter were subliminal lessons in exceptional direction and how a well-told tale can get under your skin even if you're too young to find Arizona on a map.

As for death, fortunately this wasn't a thing for me until my goldfish Bacardi and Breezer somehow drowned, but when the bunnies in Watership Down started falling like flies I realised happy endings were not a given. That was life, and death were a part of it.

Teenage hearts still intact from the breaks before it, will inherit angst after reading any of Shakespeare's romantic plays, but it was Baz Luhrmann's bombastic Romeo + Juliet that nuanced this tragedy for my generation. It was a daunting exposé of the power of passion as to love someone that much was both an envious and horrifying concept. On the subject of horrifying, I learnt some deeply uncomfortable truths about unjust racism through the lens of many an Uncle Tom TV movie - I can't recall the titles, but the scenes of abuse from slave owners caused me to cry myself to sleep as they dissolved my naivety.

Having a black father we were magnetised to shows with brown faces. Watching them was 'doing it for the team' but it was most satisfying when they were actually good. Coming to America taught me to belly laugh and Set It Off taught me about sisterhood but also taught me the political pros and cons of blaxplotation.

In my most recent cinematic awakening, Maysles' Grey Gardens doc spookily chimed with the relationship with my own mother. My then single-self envisioned my 'hippy hoarding' mother and I living this beautiful mess of an existence - something that filled me with fondness and fear.

Coming of age films can be found in the most unlikeliest of genres. The realisation that they don't just belong to teen flick fodder has been a welcome emancipation and that any good film can have a lesson to heed.

The Bechdel Test Fest is a year-long feminist film festival celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Bechdel Test. Next up is 'Little Women Big Stories' where we hail female leads in coming of age movies. I'm hoping our selection will provide experiences that inspire, define and reassure our audiences no matter their age or what their relationship with cinema is yet to be.