Q&A: Keva Rosenfeld on His Enlightening Sequel, ‘All American High Revisited’

Insightful and charming, at times poignant, All American High Revisited takes you back in time to the excess and naiveté of America in the 1980s. The film follows Finnish exchange student Rikki Rauhala throughout her senior year at a suburban California school. A revealing slice of Americana, the film is a John Hughes movie come to life. A critical success during its initial release, Revisited returns 30 years later to add a final chapter and finally answer the question, whatever became of those archetypes: the jock, the punk, and the prep?


Please describe All American High Revisited in your own words.

Keva Rosenfeld: I’d say it’s about the exuberance of youth. It’s about high school as a state of mind. It’s about one senior class, filmed over the course of one year during one era, and then reconsidered a generation later.

What compelled you to revisit your subjects from All American High 30 years later?

KR: “Compelled” is great word. I have a storage unit full of lots of stuff that I’ve collected. There are vintage books, rare vinyl, Polaroids, mechanical toys, some salt & pepper shakers, and in one corner there are boxes of my 16mm films. Among those, I rediscovered a 59-minute documentary, “All American High,” that I made about the social rites of high school life. The film aired on public television twice, and played at two art house theaters for a week. It was very well-received, but was barely seen and not widely available. I was happy I made it and happy that it launched my directing career, and then the film sat dormant in the storage corner for decades.

When I realized that it soon would be the 30th anniversary of those graduating seniors, I thought, here’s an unusual chance to do a follow-up film, spanning three decades, that I shouldn’t pass up. I kept thinking, this will never happen to me again, to be able to film the same people thirty years later. So I went for it. I became a bit obsessed. I hired some researchers and we searched for the students that I originally spoke to in the film. Reconnecting with them and seeing where life has taken them has been one of the most gratifying, surreal and invigorating that things I’ve ever done.

Had you kept in touch with them over the years?

KR: I hadn’t really been in touch with the students since I made the film but, from time to time, I had wondered about them. I think we all like to imagine what happened to that kid who sat next to us in math class. “What ever happened to…?” is a great conversation opener, so getting in touch with those students seemed be a cool thing to do. There’s always some kind of current story buried in the past.

Did you envision your subjects’ future lives when you first met them?

KR: No, never. Not in a million years could I have imagined how they’d turn out.  Back then, it would have been beyond my brainpower to think about who they’d become, or that I’d revisit these same students thirty years later, or that I’d even be here now showing a newly re-mastered film, with new footage, to a new audience.

What surprised you the most?

KR: There have been a couple of surprises. One big surprise after making this film, was my realization that education and learning don’t necessarily have to go hand-in-hand. It seems that most learning is self-taught, is in satisfying a specific interest, is in being driven to find things out. There’s a whole lot of learning that takes place after, or even in spite of, a high school education. Most of the students that I met again as adults really did OK in life.

Another big surprise is that the film seems to be less about the 80s, and more about a timeless “high schoolness” that we share. Everyone, of all ages, who approaches me after seeing the film immediately tells me what year they graduated from their high school, and how much of their high school experience was the same or different. Anyone who has graduated high school compares themselves, good or bad, to something they see in the film. It reminds me of a great Cameron Crowe quote, “Nothing lasts forever, except high school.”

How have high school audiences reacted to the film so far? Can students today relate to the issues students were facing 30 years ago (a world without cell phones or the Internet!)?

KR: Across the board, the reaction from young people has been fantastic. Maybe because they are closer to being seventeen years old, so it’s easier for them to directly compare the “then” to the “now”—whether it’s a discussion on gun control or deciding what to wear to their prom.

Most of the images that they’ve seen of 80s teens comes from Hollywood. This is not a John Hughes comedy, which I happen to love, but instead, a documentary. Nothing was scripted. No one was asked to do anything. I just intuitively pointed my camera. Today’s high school students appreciate that this is real, not staged. They tell me that it’s fun to see their parents’ generation as real teens. The film now is clearly more entertaining too; more of the audiences are laughing. You can almost hear them thinking: “Is that how students really dressed themselves to go to school?” “Did they actually choose those remarkable haircuts?” “Is that a camera he’s holding?”

High school audiences are also shocked that the kids in the film are not at all conscious of the camera. We had gained their trust and had great access to their world, something that might not happen in the same way today. It was a less restrictive era, when no one worried if what you did would get posted on Facebook or YouTube. There was a kind of carefree quality to being teenager then, an unmonitored openness in their behavior. Comparing that to life now, in an age of selfies, it’s remarkable.

Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring documentarians?

KR: Listen. Work hard. Stay humble. Find gratitude. But mostly… listen. Listen to your subjects. Listen to suggestions. Listen to your friends. Listen to your heart.

What are you most looking forward to at the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival?

KR: Meeting all the people! Is there any other reason to go to a film festival?

All American High Revisited will have its East Coast premiere in the World Cinema section at HIFF 2014; find tickets. Follow All American High Revisited on Facebook and Twitter.

Keva-Rosenfeld-headshotKeva Rosenfeld has directed films for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and public service campaigns for the Centers for Disease Control. Rosenfeld also directs commercials for companies such as Nissan, Pepsi and Nestlé. His feature debut, Twenty Bucks, won the Critics Award at the Deauville Film Festival. All American High Revisited is a sequel to his film All American High, and is often considered a real-life companion piece to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. A graduate of USC’s Film School, Keva also contributes essays for National Public Radio and is a fine arts photographer.


  1. Melodie Rosenfeld says

    Wonderful interview. Can’t wait to see AHRevisited!! Best of luck.