The Dallas Morning News

Metro: Plano

Bringing suburbia into focus

Young filmmaker turns camera's eye on troubled teens


by Diana Griffith/The Dallas Morning News

Wake up, suburbia, and listen to your kids.

That's the message of the edgy documentary Plano, Texas: A Cultural

Study of Suburbia, which made its area debut at the Dallas Video Festival
on Friday night.

Austin-based filmmaker Travis Marriott, 24, said he focused on Plano

because it illustrates what he sees as the failure of carefully planned
suburbs to deal with unexpected problems such as teen suicide and heroin

"The suburbs are socially so important," said Mr. Marriott, who grew

up in suburbs in Texas and Oklahoma.  "I don't know if there is a
more important place."

So in November 1998, he set out to document Plano, and in so doing,

to shed some light on all suburbs.

The 30-minute film opens with sepia-toned photographs - familiar to

Plano families - of farms, old Mechanic Street after the fires, the Interurban
Railway.  Then a young man from Plano, his head shaved and arms crossed
with tattoos, describes in graphic detail what he'd like to do to your
daughter.  Cut to Vicki Northcutt, author of Plano, an Illustrated
Chronicle, conservatively dressed and coiffed in her Plano home.

"It's a great place to raise kids," she says.

The juxtaposition is jarring.

"The subject it's getting to is not pretty," Mr. Marriott said, adding

that including the profanity was my indulgence with sensationalism."

It's a device used throughout the film, as Mr. Marriott follows adults

boasting of Plano's clean-cut image with footage of former jocks and drug
users describing the more desperate, dangerous side of Plano that they

For instance:

A clip of a real estate promo promising that "The advantages begin in

Plano;" a Keep Plano Beautiful trash can; a joke about how Plano was named. 
Then there's Jim Lindenblatt, telling his memories of the early-80's suicides,
when he was sophomore.  "In Plano we had nothing to do.  Basically
a bunch of white trash rich people."  He describes the drag race that
he said started it all: "Bobby hit Becky, then Bobby killed himself."

"I did my homework," Mr. Marriott said.  He devoured Plano: The

Early Years, he said, as well as the hundreds of newspaper and magazine
articles written in the last three years about Plano.  He spoke to
founding families, city planners and sociology professors, taking a file
several inches thick to each interview.

The result so impressed Bart Weiss, founding director of the festival,

that he tracked down Mr. Marriott after seeing the film at a smaller festival. 
Mr. Weiss included the film in Frames of MInd, a collection of short films
on KERA-TV (Channel 13) as well as the in festival because of the film's
message, he said.

"Every parent in Plano needs to see this...," Mr. Weir said, "to understand

this is the culture they're living in."

A longtime Dallas resident, he said that while he'd heard all about

Plano's history of troubled teenagers, he'd never heard the voices of the

"This is the first time I've ever seen the kids say their point of view,"

he said.  "It's really clear that the parents don't want to hear it."

Mr. Marriott said he worked hard to present a balanced view of the city

and its parents.  "I didn't want to make anyone look ridiculous,"
he said.

How well he succeeded in the eyes of those he interviewed remains to

be seen.  Mr. Marriott, who just returned from several months in Finland,
said he has not had a chance to send copies of the video to the people
he interviewed.  He said he's unsure how they'll respond to the final

Anne delCastillo, a 29-year-old filmThuff from Austin, said the film

was fair enough.

"It seemed to be less about Plano and casting Plano in a bad light. 

It's e out a real different perception, a delusion the parents are under."

But that delusion is not limited to Plano, she said: "It's endemic in

this society."

Flashes of headlines: the overdose of former Cowboy Mark Tuinei, 18

teenagers dead of heroin overdoses; court indictments and plea bargains. 
Aerial shots of subdivisions, their gracefully curving streets lined with
matching homes with matching pools and matching security fences. 
The city is named fourth kid-friendliest city in 1997, the same year national
media did feature stories on the city's heroin deaths.

Mr. Marriott intended the film to be a study on suburbia, he said, not

an exposť on drug use among its teenagers.

"I started with a completely different approach, but with the interviews

I had, it sort of took its own shape," he said.

He spent nine months shooting the film, he said, driving to Plano most

weekends to film his subjects: sociology professors, undercover cops, p,6.on

"It takes half the film just to get to heroin, and I'm glad."

Lowell and Andrea Hill are discussing their son Rob's overdose. 

They talk about their disbelief, their shock, and now, their regret. 

Mr. Hill's voice rises as he says to the camera, "I don't care if you trust
me.  I'd rather you be alive because I didn't trust you tan go to
visit your grave and say I trusted you."  His wife's suggestion that
parents give children drug tests is met with laughter by the mostly young,
urban video festival audience.

There are no answers in Mr. Marriott's film, but many audience members

said they appreciated the glimpse into what many them grew up only hearing
about - Plano's troubled teens.

"I liked the discrepancies between the way the parents viewed it, the

kids viewed it and the cops viewed it," said Daniel Dunham, 21, of Dallas.

But Jason Gray, 20, said he was tired of the whole thing.

"The subject has been beaten to death," Mr. Gray said, adding that while

growing up in Dallas he knew plenty of people who overdosed and didn't
get any media attention.

Mr. Marriott said he made the film to document the problem, not to fix

it.  But for the price of a tape and postage, he said he'd be glad
to send out copies if anyone's interested.  He can be reached at his
e-mail address,

Mr. Marriott looks as though he could be one of the kids in his film

- unkempt black hair, T-shirt worn thin, thick glasses in clunky black
frames.  An outsider in the affluent suburbs his parents' work took
him to - "I was an oil brat" - Mr. Marriott said he was frustrated with
the expectations adults had becarne of his appearance.

"I was so anti-drug in high school," he said, mainly as a way to contradict

his culture's assumption.  "I didn't want to be associated with any

His anti-drug stance shifted in college, he said, though he never tried


After all his research, he said, he doesn't hold much hope for the suburbs,

where he said people are more invested in their outer image than in their
inner lives.

"We can't change the families," he said.  He said mandatory drug

testing and longer jail terms miss an important part of the problem: 
That kid's drug problems don't begin when they overdose, they began years
earlier and just weren't addressed.

"Instead of putting a guardrail at the top of the cliff, you're just

putting more ambulances at the bottom," he said.

Staff writer DianaGriffith can be reached at 214-977-6840 and



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