Miami Film Festival Interview with Lauren Cohen

I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story” a documentary directed by Jessica Leski is making its Florida premiere at the Miami Film Festival in Florida. A film dedicated to showcasing the impact of boybands on the lives of teenage girls has taken the film festival world by storm, ultimately catching the eye of Lauren Cohen, Festival Programmer at the Miami Film Festival. I chatted with Lauren on the topics touched upon in this film such as our own experiences being fangirls, Dara’s boyband theory discussed in the film and the overall influence boybands have on their generation of fans.

Hey Lauren! I understand you are the festival programmer at the Miami Film Festival. Can you walk me through the process of how you select the films that will be making their premieres?

We watch a lot of films throughout the year and from those films we find really special, we do everything we can to bring them to the Miami Film Festival. These films have to be a minimum of a Florida premiere to be shown at the festival, so everything you see at the Miami Film Festival will be at the very least the first time it will be shown anywhere in Florida and we also have a lot of world premieres or North American premieres.

I was watching this documentary and it’s right up my alley. I definitely consider myself to be a fangirl. Growing up I was definitely obsessed with my boybands and bands overall so within the first 30 seconds I was already in awe of the footage as It’s something I definitely resonate with. What made you think this would be a great film to be shown at the festival?

I had read about it and it had shown at a couple of international [film] festivals and it had such rave reviews. A lot of these festivals are very international and art house and to see a boyband documentary being shown is not the kind of thing you typically see at a lot of these film festivals. The reviews I was seeing was everyone was loving this. 

I knew this would be my kind of thing but to see these 60-year-old men reviewing it so positively, I knew this would be something special and not just something that someone like me who grew up loving The Backstreet Boys and obsessed with Twilight would be able to connect to. I requested a screener for it and like you said, within the first 30 seconds I was so charmed by it and it made me so happy - I was smiling so hard the whole time. I think this film is definitely about boybands but it’s more of what it’s like to have a fandom and what it’s like to love something when you’re growing up that in a sense it kind of defines so much of your life, even as an adult. Even when that thing is no longer popular or that present, it’s always with you. 

Yes, I completely agree! Essentially this documentary is the fascination of teens with these boybands and the strong connection they have with them during their adolescent years. Did you have a similar experience with a particular boyband?

I was definitely into The Backstreet Boys, it wasn’t to the degree of the girls in the movie, but I was really into them. I was obsessed with Nick and Brian. I went to see them last year at a concert and the crowd was really calm and the second they stepped on that stage, everyone just lost their minds. You are normal 2 seconds before and then those guys walk on stage and you’re back to your 10-year-old self. It’s literally a switch in everyone’s brain.

I really loved how the director, Jessica Leski, visually showed these cartoon fantasy scenes of the kind of dreams these fans would have featuring their favorite boyband member. I loved the scene of Nick teaching Sadia how to swim. Did you ever have these daydream fantasies?

Leonardo DiCaprio is still my celebrity crush and I’m never going to get over that! If Leo was in the same room as me, I think I would faint. I have a fantasy of meeting him, but I genuinely think I will pass out and not say anything if I ever saw him.

Was there a specific scene in the film that really resonated with you or when you realized that this film needs to be showed at this year’s festival?

I think my favorite scene in the film is when Dara, the Take That fan, would share her experiences because when she would explain things, that’s exactly how I would feel about my fandom. I knew this film was something special when she was talking about the Boyband Theory. It was funny because I’ve never seen anyone break it down that way and it was so true. I’m not an expert but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any documentary or extended media piece that tried to break down why people love boybands and what it is about their appeal. When she is standing in front of the white-board showing the number of guys, the kind of songs they sing about, the personalities found within bands – it really is a well thought out formula. That was the scene I was so charmed by that I was like, “yeah, I can’t live without this documentary not being shown at the festival.”

There is a scene in the beginning of the film where a One Direction fan says, “They aren’t even human beings- human beings cannot be that perfect,” and this overall feeling they have of having a possession over them. What are your thoughts on that, when fans get so overly protected over their idols?

You know people are hard-core fans, but you never really heard people describe things that way. I do think she was verbalizing how most of those girls feel even if they can’t figure out the words themselves. I think there is a certain kind of possessiveness where they have a hard time realizing that they are real people.

That’s one thing I really like about this documentary, I would say about 90% is very happy, positive and energetic but I do think they sprinkled a good amount of stuff that shows how it can be a little troubling. There is a moment were super-fan, Sadia, is on the BSB cruise and she takes a step back and says something along the lines of, “I’m not sure I like this version of myself on here” and how she can’t function without knowing what the boys were doing every second of the day. On paper those cruises sound like such a blast to me and I’m sure it would be so much fun, but there is also a level of where you are so hyper-focused on them to the point where I don’t know if I could enjoy myself as much as I would like.

For those people who are not in the fandom, who see these girls as irritating or completely out of touch with reality and who truly do not understand how these bands have affected teenage girls lives for the better- what do you want them to take away from this film? 

I know for fangirls this will be appealing to them, but I would love for people who don’t necessarily have a fandom or never experienced anything like this to see this documentary. I think this is the first time I’ve seen a documentary that respected and validated the feelings of young girls instead of them being considered crazy, hyper or hysterical. I feel like it’s a part of growing up, and specifically to young girls who having something like a boyband, Titanic [my obsession], or Twilight is a crucial part of growing up for so many girls. It’s your first kind of chance to find your own crush or your own taste in what you like. I want people to see it and realize that all those girls they see screaming on TV or in the streets when a celebrity is nearby, is that there is so much more behind them and the love they have for these bands than just being seen as overly emotional. 

The greatest thing about watching this documentary was the similarities I found amongst myself and the four women featured in this film. Just like Dara (Take That fan), I remembered when my parents did not let me attend a concert by one of my favorite bands and I had to see them during a reunion tour 10 years later - it was the Spice Girls. Like Elif (One Direction fan) I would get teary-eyed seeing concert footage of my favorite childhood band, S Club 7.  Susan has a massive collection of clippings featuring The Beatles, something I also have of. Sadia (The Backstreet Boys fan) had an e-mail newsletter dedicated to the boys, whereas I had a website dedicated to S Club 7.  

There is something pure and nostalgic about seeing a film cover a subject like this. It magically transported me back to when I was 7 years old at the height of boybands such as NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, LFO, 5ive, O-Town, Take That, Westlife, Youngstown, etc. For many fangirls like myself, these boybands offer an escape from reality when you’re younger, but oftentimes it can come full circle as it can influence your career path. Dara is a brand strategist, Susan is a movie producer, Elif wants to become a singer and I have worked in the entertainment field. Loving a band can be a phase to some, but it can directly influence your life. 

Do not walk but run to see I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story playing at the Miami Film Festival. Click here to buy tickets!

I’d also like to point out Lauren and I had a major discussion about Twilight and how much we both loved it and how there should be a documentary made on just the Twilight fandom as we were both hard-core fans. If you’re wondering, she is Team Jacob ;) 

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