The well-heeled fantasia Gossip Girl is the current standard-bearer for depictions of randy, voluble teenagers tearing through the concrete jungle. But for a real-world alternative, two innovative new films blur the lines between scripted drama and documentary to create gripping immersion courses on urban youth. 

In Up with Me (available now via IFC's movies-on-demand service), a prep-school student comes home on break to his rough Harlem neighborhood, where he makes a fateful decision to help a troubled friend. Director Greg Takoudes collaborated on the screenplay with his cast of mostly at-risk Harlem teens, who play fictionalized versions of themselves. (They also offered up their homes as movie sets.) 

The Class (in limited release) stars real-life Paris teacher François Bégaudeau opposite a multicultural ensemble of junior high school students (above)—all nonprofessional actors—who contradict, inspire, and sometimes infuriate their devoted instructor. Winner of the 2008 Palme d'Or at Cannes, Laurent Cantet's drama portrays its crowded, rowdy classroom as a microcosm of democracy; the questions the film raises about the challenges facing public education are as urgent in America as they are in France. 


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