Jamie J Johnson, a former Screen International Star of Tomorrow, had an unusual tour of Europe making his debut feature documentary, Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary, which had its world premiere in Toronto.
The film, about several contestants in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, took Johnson to Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, Cyprus, Belgium, Malta, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, Georgia and Greece.
"It was really exhausting," says London-based Johnson of all the travels, which meant he was on the road from August to December 2007. "I just dreamt of having my own bed and a bowl of Coco Pops."
Being a Star of Tomorrow, in recognition of his humorous shorts on topics including the slowest swimmer in Olympic history and breakfast cereals, was a step towards getting the first feature off the ground. "Various companies wanted to meet with me, and Junior Eurovision was the idea I'd had for a while," he says.
Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley of Number 9 Films came on board to produce (with support from the Britdoc Foundation at Channel 4) and Intandem is handling sales.
Johnson and a friend shot teaser footage at the 2006 contest in Romania, and then with Number 9 on board they hopped from country to country, starting in August 2007 and culminating at the Rotterdam-based finals in December. The four main characters in the film hail from Belgium, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Georgia.
Sounds Like Teen Spirit of course draws comparisons with children-in-competition documentaries Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom. "It doesn't break new ground in terms of subject matter or form, but I think it is more playful," Johnson says.
Even for audiences that are unfamiliar with the Eurovision phenomenon, the film should still be of interest. "They go through the stuff that kids go through, that should translate. I think the humour will translate."
He says the humour is "funny inadvertently but not in a cruel way ... it captures the passion of the Junior Eurovision as well as some absurdity - but in a nice way."
And he hopes there is a wider message to be found among the laughs and songs. "There were incarnations of the film that were much more about the changing Europe and this is about the characters and their emotional stories, because that's what people connect with. You do see how Europe is different - Calvinist Western Europe and the Mediterranean lifestyle of the Cypriots. It adds texture."
Johnson will not abandon his documentary roots - he has a development deal with the documentary department at the BBC. Yet he is eager to try fiction as well and is writing a script for Film4. "That's embryonic," he says. "It might be animated or with puppets or a mix with live action, possibly about a cat and a cockroach.
"With fiction I want to use some documentary approach - with a small crew, improvising. The documentary thing will come in whether its an actual documentary or not."