Independent videomaker, Julie Gustafson, invites a diverse group of teenage girls from New Orleans to make autobiographical videos exploring their developing sexuality and identity. An unprecedented long-term collaboration, DESIRE weaves together the girls’ video work, the stories of their changing lives, as well as the family, social and economic contexts in which their desires and choices are shaped. The film begins in a primarily African-American housing project named ‘Desire' and follows the lives of teenagers across diverse racial, political, class, and cultural backgrounds. Cassandra, Kimeca, Tracy, Peggy, and Tiffinie collaborate to tell their own stories of struggle and wrestling with questions of sexual identity, body image, family, future plans, and the pressures of finding one's way in the world. As the film unfolds over the next five years, DESIRE honors each of the young women’s challenges and achievements, making clear that their ‘choices’ are linked not just to hopes and dreams, but to actual educational and economic opportunity-- too often tinged with the racial disadvantage. In one remarkable scene, Kimeca, turns the camera on Gustafson, prompting her to share her own story of teenage pregnancy and the difficult decisions she made about abortion. As John Anderson from Variety said: “Top-flight editing and a pace that never falters help "Desire" movingly tell the stories of its five subjects.” Justin Lane Briggs of The New School concurs: “The films the girls make themselves are shockingly honest and revealing…The result is a poignant and moving work, which stirs up a massive cloud of thoughts and issues without ever settling on one side of them... Cassandra and Tiffanie will haunt your dreams.

Browse press releases, promotional material, and reviews here.

02:31Copy video clip URL Scenes of a largely African American neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana on and around streets with names like “Desire,” “Treasure,” and “Pleasure.” 

03:04Copy video clip URL Introductory text: “This is a film about a group of teenage girls… their developing sexuality and identity, their hopes and dreams. The documentary spans five years of the girls’ lives. We began in a public housing development named Desire.”

03:27Copy video clip URL Teenage girls, including 15-year-0ld Cassandra Swaing, shoot a video in the courtyard of Desire. A dancer performs for the camera as Julie Gustafson helps them set up their shot. 

03:50Copy video clip URL The girls review their footage as Julie explains the project in voiceover: “With the help of experienced filmmakers, we taught girls from Desire to make videos about themselves. We asked them what they wanted out of life, and if they’ll get it.”

04:06Copy video clip URL Cassandra: A thoughtful, soft-spoken African American teenager, Cassandra meets other teen girls from around the city who will join the project. 

04:22Copy video clip URL Tiffanie: A white 17-year-old with long brown hair, Tiffanie cares for her sleeping baby in a sparsely furnished living room, her husband Lee just off camera. “Nobody that I knew who had a baby wanted it to happen,” she says.

04:27Copy video clip URL Tracy: A white 16-year-old with wavy brown hair, Tracey speaks to the camera from her bedroom in her parents’ house about the pressures of preparing for college.

04:32Copy video clip URL Kimeca: While we watch Kimeca, an 18-year-old African American girl with two children, taking her toddler for a walk, Julie explains in voiceover that while the girls filmed their own videos, she “filmed their changing lives.”

04:48Copy video clip URL Peggy: An intelligent and opinionated 16-year-old daughter of Chinese parents, Peggy speaks from her bedroom of her enthusiasm for the project, because she likes “to watch stuff about teenage sex and drugs and things like that.”

05:06Copy video clip URL Title card and filmmaker credit: “Desire, a film by Julie Gustafson with The Teenage Girls’ Documentary Project”

05:29Copy video clip URL Cassandra: Cassandra practices with her high school ROTC, sharing that she wants to join the army so she can go to college to become a mechanical engineer, and that she never wants children.

07:42Copy video clip URL “Family Ties” by Cassandra Swaing: Cassandra’s video about her family and about Delvin, who wants to be her boyfriend… “but not in this lifetime,” she says.

08:58Copy video clip URL Tiffanie: Cassandra and Julie travel to Belle Chasse, in the suburbs across the river from Desire, to meet with Tiffanie. Lee sits on the couch with a friend while Tiffanie discusses her experiences as a young mother. 

10:55Copy video clip URL “My Side, Your Side, and The Truth” by Tiffanie and Lee Johnson: A video made by the couple in which each calmly articulates the difficulties and frustrations they’ve felt in their marriage.

12:11Copy video clip URL Peggy: A student at the prestigious private school Isidore Newman School in Uptown New Orleans, Peggy shares her idea for a video about sex with the other girls in the group. We see her playing music on her keyboard in her extremely messy room and she shares that she would emphatically prefer abortion to giving birth. Her parents, Clement and Jean, share that they are very conservative and don’t talk about sex with their daughter.

14:50Copy video clip URL “I Will Not Talk About Sex” by Peggy Wang: Peggy writes “I will not talk about sex” over and over on a classroom chalkboard, intercut with conversations about sex with her friends. 

16:15Copy video clip URL Peggy and Julie visit a store to look at contraceptive products. 

17:12Copy video clip URL Tracy: Tracy and her mom Marlene argue about Tracy drinking and staying out late.

17:57Copy video clip URL “Cheers” by Tracy Morton: Tracy’s video about the bar where she and her friends hang out. 

21:20Copy video clip URL Cassandra: Cassandra reflects on her grades and her boredom with school, followed by her video, “Boredom: A Video Poem,” a video about her dissatisfaction with life that ends by revealing that she is pregnant.

24:57Copy video clip URL Tiffanie: Tiffanie confronts her husband about his lack of support, followed by “Play Tape” by Tiffanie and Lee, in which Lee films an argument with Tiffanie about his infidelity.

26:44Copy video clip URL Tiffanie moves back home with her mother. 

28:03Copy video clip URL Kimeca: At Sampson Park, near Desire. Kimeca shares her first video, made with Cassandra’s help. “Just Half of Another Day of My Life” by Kimeca Rodgers, a video about her morning routine caring for her two young children. 

29:15Copy video clip URL Kimeca reflects on how motherhood disrupted her high school career. She then speaks with the principal of Carver High School.

30:34Copy video clip URL Julie meets with members of the community, who are concerned about the portrayal of the girls in the documentary. 

32:15Copy video clip URL Kimeca, with her infant, turns the camera around on Julie, who speaks about her children and about the two abortions she had when she was a teenager. 

34:53Copy video clip URL Year Two: Cassandra, now 16, gives birth to her daughter in the hospital. The father, Delvin, visits the following day. 

36:35Copy video clip URL “It’s a Girl,” by Cassandra Swaing: a brief, loving portrait of Cassandra’s daughter Dajonna. 

36:59Copy video clip URL Cassandra meets with her English teacher about her sagging grades. She tries to do homework while caring for her baby. 

38:44Copy video clip URL “Purse Piece” by Tracy Morton. Tracy goes through her purse, discussing the significance of each item. 

39:58Copy video clip URL Tracy’s father Jim shares his objections to his daughter’s boyfriend, a bartender who wears a nipple ring.

40:50Copy video clip URL Tiffanie: Now divorced, Tiffanie and Lee reflect on their relationship and her desire for independence, followed by Tiffanie’s video “Ask a Wiser Source.” Tiffanie graduates and tries to navigate college.

45:02Copy video clip URL Cassandra: Cassandra plays with her daughter in the park. She watches a video from Delvin pleading for a larger role in his daughter’s life even though, as he later reveals, he cannot offer any financial support.

47:36Copy video clip URL Year Three: A production meeting with all the participants in which Cassandra and Kimeca express dissatisfaction with Julie’s framing of questions posed to them about whether they feel they have “choices” in their lives as relates to money and class.

49:38Copy video clip URL Peggy: Now 18, Peggy goes to a women’s reproductive health clinic to make “The Clinic,” in which she speaks with anonymous women about their decisions to get an abortion. Outside the clinic she is confronted by aggressive religious activists. 

52:15Copy video clip URL “Paw-Paw, My Miracle Child,” by Kimeca Rodgers. Kimeca’s video about her son, who has a number of medical problems. This is followed by Kimeca telling her history teacher that she is dropping out of school.

55:59Copy video clip URL Cassandra’s Graduation: Cassandra graduates while Kimeca looks on. Kimeca and her mother discuss Kimeca’s plans going forward. 

57:28Copy video clip URL Tracy, Age 18: Tracy shares with the rest of the group how going to a private school and having her future mapped out for her also gives her a lack of choices. She visits her guidance counselor and then visits a college. Her father share that he hopes she marries rich.

60:54Copy video clip URL “What Is Love?” by Tracy & Jason. A video made by Tracy and her boyfriend in which both share their thoughts on love.

62:28Copy video clip URL Year Four: “Skin Deep” and “Secrets” by Peggy Wang. Peggy, age 19, talks about her physical appearance and then about women in fashion magazines with her friend Susannah, including her friend’s struggles with bulimia.

66:54Copy video clip URL Tiffanie, age 20: “Girlfriends,” by Tiffanie Johnson. Tiffanie comes out as bisexual in her video. Tiffanie then talks to Julie about her first kiss with a girl and her worries about people in her very religious discovering that she’s bisexual.

70:58Copy video clip URL Tracy, age 19: Tracy working at a video store, while her parents bemoan that she’s not at college. “Still Life” by Tracy Morton, Tracy’s documentary about her mother’s lost opportunities. Then she and her family reflect on her future. Six months later, Tracy leaves for LSU.

75:44Copy video clip URL Cassandra, age 18: Cassandra and her family relocate as Desire is slated for demolition. Cassandra visits an army recruitment center to learn that she cannot join because she would need to give up custody of her child for the period of her first enlistment.

78:51Copy video clip URL Year Five, a preview screening of the documentary at Loyola University.

80:13Copy video clip URL Cassandra moves to Arizona in search of better job opportunities, says goodbye to Kimeca.

82:23Copy video clip URL Updates on the subjects of the documentary: Kimeca works at a nursing home, Peggy graduated from Tulane and moved to NYC, Tiffanie is studying at Tulane and is living with a new girlfriend, Tracy is now in law school at Tulane and has not quit smoking, Cassandra was laid off and juggles fast food jobs with raising her daughter.



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