Cecilia Aldarondo – whose godfather lives in Bakersfield – had to face her deepest, darkest fears to produce her new HBO documentary scheduled to debut at 9 p.m. Nov. 8. She turned the cameras on herself to revisit her angst-filled teen years.
“You Were My First Boyfriend” features a blend of home movies and re-creations where Aldarondo goes on a mission to reconcile her tortured teen years. That means facing some of her most formative childhood experiences, tracking down old crushes and reenacting memories of youthful humiliation and desire. Think of it as if a documentary and the TV show “My So Called Life” had a baby.
The general practice of documentary filmmakers is to be a passive observer when telling their story. It is that unbiased approach that allows the truth to be told.
Aldarondo had to take that approach while dealing with subject matter – both joyous and heartbreaking – that was deeply personal. She had no problem keeping her objectivity despite the subject matter. Along with making documentary films, Aldarondo teaches filmmaking classes and one of the first things she tells her students is that she doesn’t believe in objectivity.
“I believe in accounting for where you are coming from,” Aldarondo says. “This is a movie I think really encapsulates what is possible when you kind of own up to the fact that it is really hard to be objective in general but this is a very subjective documentary.”
The film deals with specific moments in Aldarondo’s youth from her desperate struggles to be accepted by her peers to a fluctuating friendship. Each moment is connected to TV, film or music elements from her past including the recreation of the music video for the Tori Amos song “Crucify.”
It is the director’s intent that while the elements are directly tied to her life, the heart of the movie will resonate with anyone who felt like an outsider while growing up. It also deals with themes of friendship, family dynamics and tragic loss.
Because Aldarondo was telling such a subjective story, she felt it was necessary to have another pair of eyes on the project. She was helped on her journey through the emotional mind fields of her past is Dinuba High School graduate Sarah Enid Hagey who serves as the co-director, writer and editor of “You Were My First Boyfriend.”
Hagey knew the task Aldarondo was taking on with the film and not just because of the subject matter.
“It is incredibly hard to direct yourself even if you are a seasoned actor,” Hagey says. “There are so many considerations not even taking into account the emotional part of this.
“I was keeping things on track. I was making sure that we were getting the shot. That we were getting our coverage. But I was also really tuned into where Cecilia was at any moment in terms of her emotional state. So I also tried to remain a safe haven for her.”
The documentary is filled with emotional moments for Aldarondo as she often appears in scenes playing herself but surrounded by younger actors portraying the people from her past. This direct contact with moments that have haunted her since her youth often hit Aldarondo hard.
Having co-directors opened up the situation where they would often talk about a scene and decided to keep it, change it or scrap it entirely. The fact Hagey would end up editing the movie gave her the perspective to know if they had enough footage for a scene or needed something extra.
Filming had started when Aldarondo learned the kind of tragic news that could have changed the approach completely. The director decided it was an element that still fit in their coming-of-age documentary.
“It is a film about what happens when 20 years out of high school you decide to go back there in both the literal and the metaphysical sense of the word,” Aldarondo says. “So, when I started the project, I was kind of in the same place that I was in high school.
“I still felt very much like that teenage outsider that I was and so the journey of the film mirrors my own journey of going from a place of very visceral resentment and being stuck in the past and moving into a place of acceptance and you can even say maturity.”
That incident was just another part of Aldarondo’s efforts to show the struggles with popularity and trying to fit in that has been the case with so many young people over the years.
Along with Aldarondo, those featured in the documentary include Melissa Baker, Sarah Baker Butterfield, Laura Gallegos, Gabriel Kristal, Joel Pickering and Jo Anne Taylor as themselves. After “You Were My First Boyfriend” debuts on HBO, it will be available on the streaming service Max.