'Petting Zoo' Film (2015) Review and Interview - Based on Teen Pregnancy

Courtesy of Petting Zoo (2015)

Pregnancy can be a very frightening experience for a young woman, filled with uncertainty and conflicting feelings. A large cause of teenage pregnancy is often seen in teenagers who grew up in poverty with a lack of education about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.  Teen girls have sex before knowing the meaning of an intimate connection with a partner.  Teens are obsessed with sex and are sexually active and we have a society where teens are engaged in what is called “teen sex trends,” along with the problems of drugs and alcohol.

Parents might think talking about sex is inappropriate or that it is automatically encouraging their children to have sex, so they avoid talking about it, but the disastrous outcome of  avoiding it leaves kids with information only from their peers, which often includes pressure to engage in sex acts to meet social standards. Parents should realize that in attempting to protect their children from the reality of human sexuality they are causing more harm than good. Open discussion about sex in a safe, nonjudgmental environment is essential in helping minors make educated decisions about sex.  Decades of research tell us that we give the young teens the tools they need, they actually feel more empowered to make healthy decisions for their future.

San Antonio has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the U.S, and writer/director Micah Magee chose to explore this topic with her first feature film “Petting Zoo” (2015).  While she was working on her screenplay she discovered some relevant documentation about the issue in Texas:  "In 2011, San Antonio had the second highest teen pregnancy rate of any city in America  more than 50% higher than the national average. A Texas teen will statistically have more sex, earlier, and with more people than the rest of the United States, but is much less likely to use a condom.  Four thousand new teens become pregnant in San Antonio every year. According to a 2011 report, 94% of Texas public schools still teach abstinence only as birth control in sex education.”

Petting Zoo Film(2015) tells a story about  love, sex, and teen pregnancy in San Antonio, Texas. The film portrays a young woman coming into her own in an environment that does not always present ideal circumstances.

After world premiering at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival 2015,  the film had its North American premiere at SXSW 2015. The film is currently being screened at different festival circuits.

Film Synopsis

“Seventeen-year-old Layla’s prayers are answered when she wins a college scholarship. From a low-income family, she has been working full time at a local telemarketing company and it hasn’t stopped her from being at the top of her high school class. Hanging out with her slacker boyfriend Danny and partying with her best friend Melanie round out Layla’s routine. But an unplanned pregnancy changes everything. Giving into family pressure, Layla decides against an abortion, drops her college dreams, and moves into her loving Grandma’s trailer on the edge of town.

Layla moves forward confidently with her new daily life as a pregnant teenager, but she’s still anxious about the future. She ends up meeting a new boy called Aaron who is different from everyone else, and she starts a new job in a diner. Just as things seem to be falling into place again, fate throws another turn. As her social fabric unravels around her, Layla begins to see her environment differently, the first step toward finding herself.”

About Micah Magee

Micah has directed a number of award- winning short films. In 2012, Micah was awarded the German Short Film Lola in Gold (German Academy Award). She has received awards from the Oberhausen Film Festival (Germany) and Premiers Plans d’Angers (France).

Micah grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a dual degree in Plan II Honors and Radio-Television-Film. Micah studied film directing at the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB)

LA Splash Magazine (Yenis Monterrey) interview with the Director/Writer Micah Magee

1. Yenis Monterrey: Micah Magee — How do you identify yourself with the character, is it the pregnancy from  the main character related somehow to your own experience since you were pregnant as teen?

Micah Magee: “I was pregnant when I was 17 years old and I also lost the baby, a lot of the Petting Zoo movie is based on that experience, but the film has a fictional story.  I took some information about my own memories growing up in San Antonio, but I also did a lot of research with youth groups people who were my age or older who experienced being a pregnant teen or being a teen mom and I took all the different stories to see what we had in common and I wrote the film from that.”

2. Yenis Monterrey : How did you cast the main character, Devon Keller who is so natural and perfect for the character. I think she nailed it!  How was the process of casting?

Micah Magee: “We actually had a casting director, Vicky Boone, who is one of the best casting directors in TX and she has cast films with Terrence Malik. We had a huge response, there were about 1,000 girls who were interested in the main role of Leila.  I also attended a Fashion Show contest at a High School in San Antonio where I was looking for the main character from the contestants, but Devan was part of the audience and she won a contest — she won a burrito at a Taco Bell lottery drawing.  When she walked out, and I saw her and I said, —“Oh it’s her!”  I asked her if she would like to come to my audition, but she didn’t, so later I went back to the high school for another straight casting at the high school drama performance and she was there again as part of the audience. There I reached out again and got her mom’s number to call here and she finally came in for the audition and she was really great and she explored the character very well.”

3. Yenis Monterrey: How was the process of funding your film?  I know you used crowdfunding.

Micah Magee: "Everything started in NY, where I was waiting tables at the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts helped us and that money was enough for our crew to go back to Texas and start pre-production of the movie. When I was in Texas one of my teachers from the University of Texas “Athina Rachel Tsangari” contacted me with one of our main producers “Michael Weber” who is also a sales agent in Germany.  Michael Weber was able to find for us a subsidized loan from Europe to make the Petting Zoo film. We basically borrowed money to make the film. We also did crowdfunding with Kickstarter, to pay our crew and food. In addition, in order to finish the film, — the Austin Film Society helped us with $1,000 for post-production."

Petting Zoo (2015) movie is great material to spread social awareness regarding sexual activity in teenagers and how it can affect the life and choices of young women.  It shows how an unexpected pregnancy can drastically change the direction of someone's life.  “Petting Zoo(2015) movie is like a documentary, but is scripted and tells the story of a smart girl, who has been careless about sex protection.  The main character “Layla” is beautifully portrayed by Devon Keller.

Courtesy of Petting Zoo (2015)

Director: Micah Magee. Producers: Michael Weber, Viola Fuegen, Johan Carlsen, Friederike Steinbeck, Athina Rachel Tsangari. Screenwriter: Micah Magee. Cinematographer: Armin Dierolf. Editor: Chris Wright. Production Designer: Utah Snyder. Principal Cast: Devon Keller, Austin Reed, Deztiny Gonzales, Kiowa Tucker.

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