Two Ways Of Documenting Uncertainty: 'All This Panic' And 'God Knows Where I Am' Two documentaries out now flex a bit of moviemaking technique: All This Panic, about young women exploring what life has to offer, and God Knows Where I Am, about a woman who's sure she's seen it all.
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Two Ways Of Documenting Uncertainty: 'All This Panic' And 'God Knows Where I Am'

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Two Ways Of Documenting Uncertainty: 'All This Panic' And 'God Knows Where I Am'

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Two Ways Of Documenting Uncertainty: 'All This Panic' And 'God Knows Where I Am'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Two documentaries told in two very different ways. First, "All This Panic" takes a fly-on-the-wall approach with its teenage subjects - no narration. And then "God Knows Where I Am" teases out its story as if it were a mystery novel. Critic Bob Mondello sees parallels between the two films.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Teenage sisters Dusty and Ginger and their buddy Lena begin "All This Panic" tooling around Brooklyn on their bikes while pondering the great questions of our age.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THIS PANIC")

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: Do you think if you could, like, go back and start high school over knowing everything you know now about, like, high school, would you?

MONDELLO: Well, the great questions of their age maybe. These kids are figuring out boyfriends, weekends, lives, things in general. Ginger has artistic inclinations.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THIS PANIC")

GINGER: I did a school play. And I really liked it. And I had fun. And I liked that you can use your emotions to control how someone else feels. It's almost like a superpower.

MONDELLO: Her best friend Lena has had a rough home life, from which she escapes by planning.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THIS PANIC")

LENA: For a long time, I thought I'd be a philosophy professor. And for a long time before that, I thought I'd be an actor/baker. And I would video chat with China.

MONDELLO: Lena also copes by being comparatively responsible, even rescuing her pals, whether they want rescuing or not.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THIS PANIC")

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Don't touch my phone or call my parents ever again.

LENA: You were vomiting.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Who cares? Everyone vomits. It's a party.

LENA: Not everyone vomits.

MONDELLO: Also responsible is Sage, the one African-American girl in their circle, one of the few in their school, in fact. Sage has thought deeply about who she is and about how she's viewed.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ALL THIS PANIC")

SAGE: There's just so many weird things that come along with being, like, a teenage feminist because the teenage body is so over-sexualized, a teenage female body especially. People want to see you, but they don't want to hear what you have to say.

MONDELLO: Married filmmakers Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton did want to hear what these girls had to say. They got close to them as Brooklyn neighbors and spent three years following them as they matured and began to separate from parents and to forge their own identities. The camera captures intimate moments with musing, chattering young women who, as all this panic goes on, seem not so much consumed by panic as by motion, dancing in a club, running on a beach, hopping a subway or a cab, exploring trajectories.

The first word spoken in "God Knows Where I Am" set a very different tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

LORI SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) Dear God, please save me. I'm trying, but I don't know what to do.

MONDELLO: Linda Bishop kept a journal of her final days, a journal that was found next to her body in a New Hampshire farmhouse. And it said her death was the result of domestic abuse. How did she end up in that vacant house? The filmmakers start where the police did - with no information, just what they think may be a crime scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

MATTHEW NELSON: There was a body in the room. There was a chair and two notebooks. Looked like whoever was deceased on the floor had been writing a journal. And I started reading those journals.

MONDELLO: We do too, in effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) Sunday, October 7, 8:15 a.m., Fenbrook (ph) Farm.

MONDELLO: Off-screen actress Lori Singer gives Linda a voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) Finally feel caught up on my sleep.

MONDELLO: It is her story, after all. And in her journals, she tells it beautifully.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) Nice view from this chair to the west.

MONDELLO: The images that accompany these words are still but hardly lifeless.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) A cardinal and a chickadee on top of a lilac outside the window.

MONDELLO: The camera roves the grounds, painting a portrait of solitary quiet, visiting an apple tree that provided virtually the only sustenance Linda had for months.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

SINGER: (As Linda Bishop) Decent apples. I picked four to bring back.

MONDELLO: At which point the police tell us something startling.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM")

NELSON: If you read that journal, you would have thought that she was isolated in some hidden valley and there was nobody around to help her. But that night when we were here, I made a mental note from the window that - of the room where she was found, and I could watch the big-screen TV of the next-door neighbor.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: She was that close to safety and being assisted. Then why didn't she get help?

MONDELLO: Filmmaking brothers Todd and Jedd Weider, who produced Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning documentary "Taxi To The Dark Side" about torture in the Middle East, are making their joint debut as directors here. An unexplained death is again their subject, but they're not just solving the mystery behind it. They are doing that by getting us inside Linda's head, giving us a sense of how she saw the world as it closed in on her - the loneliness, the ever slowing pace of a life ebbing.

"God Knows Where I Am" turns out to be every bit as much a story of panic as "All This Panic." But where teenagers flail, Linda is resigned - her tragic story, a study in stillness and ultimately in silence. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDESKI MARTIN AND WOOD SONG, "QUEEN BEE")

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