'My Generation': Film Review | Hot Docs 2018

Cabin Creek Films/Photofest
This terrific doc deserves wider exposure.

Barbara Kopple's rarely seen documentary compares and contrasts the three Woodstock music festivals that took place in 1969, 1994 and 1999.

Attendees of this year's Hot Docs received a special treat in the form of a surprise screening of Barbara Kopple's My Generation, about the three Woodstock music festivals that took place in 1969, 1994 and 1999. The film premiered as a work-in-progress at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and, the occasional festival screening and television broadcast aside, has barely been seen since. Its original financial backer, PolyGram, withdrew its funding, and the music licensing rights were so costly that the filmmaker was unable to release it on her own. This rare presentation thus became a welcome opportunity for documentary buffs to finally see this excellent film which deserves wider exposure.

The film, co-directed by Thomas Haneke, largely concentrates on the '94 edition, noting the many differences between it and its less commercially oriented forebear. Backed by the PolyGram corporation, it was again co-produced by Michael Lang, who muses about his new venture, "I'd like to see what people make of it."

The festival wasn't exactly warmly embraced by the residents of Saugerties, N.Y., the proposed site. Footage of a town meeting about the event shows attendees voicing their fears about being raped or stabbed by festivalgoers and vowing to arm themselves.

What becomes very clear is the massive commercialization attendant to the '94 edition, from Pepsi signing on as a principal sponsor to the licensing of products ranging from dog tags to condoms. We see marketing meetings regarding such other corporate tie-ins as Continental Airlines and Haagen-Dazs, the latter designated "the official ice cream of Woodstock." "Ben & Jerry's were jerks," one of the execs complains.

Like the '69 original, the event quickly became a giant mud bath due to torrential rains, but that didn't inhibit the enthusiasm of its young attendees who were intent on having a good time. Many, however, were less than thrilled about being compared to the hippie generation that made the first event such a cultural event. "I'm tired of hearing about the '60s," one young man complains, while another points out, "The Woodstock generation are all yuppies now."

The documentary includes snippets of many of the '94 musical performances by such acts as Blues Traveler, Cypress Hill, Green Day, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Santana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. Footage of Joe Cocker's 1969 performance (shown, as are all of the scenes from the '69 festival, in black and white) is contrasted with his appearance 25 years later. There are also amusing interviews with several of the performers, such as Perry Farrell, who says disdainfully about the event, "I just smell too much money" as we see an intertitle informing us that his band, Porno for Pyros, demanded $150,000 for their participation. Henry Rollins comments, "I'm 33 years old, I would never go to a concert like this…I'm staying at the Marriott."

Despite the promoters' claims that Woodstock '94, which was widely shown on PPV, was not profitable, a 30th anniversary event was quickly planned. It turned out to be something of a debacle. The festival was held at an abandoned air force base, with the pavement and lack of shade making the heat unbearable. Female attendees endured much sexual harassment, as did performers like Sheryl Crow, who lashed back at audience members shouting at her to take off her top. The lineup, which included acts like Limp Bizkit and DMX, was less than stellar, and patrons, disgruntled by the lack of amenities and high prices for food and water, eventually resorted to vandalism and setting fires.

Kopple and co-director/editor Haneke superbly distill what must have been massive amounts of raw footage, cannily drawing connections between the three festivals that emphasize both their differences and commonalities. The 1969 edition, for instance, wasn't the utopian ideal that has become common mythology and, as the interviews with the attendees of the '94 and '99 festivals make clear, many festivalgoers had just as good time at those editions as their predecessors did.

My Generation makes insightful points about, among other things, the power and limitations of nostalgia, the differences between generations of young people and the corporatization of popular music. It makes one eager to see what the filmmaker could do with the 50th-anniversary Woodstock festival already being planned for next year.

Production: Cabin Creek Films, Mikado Film, PolyGram Diversified Entertainment, Road Movies Filmproduktion, Schulberg Productions, Solaris
Directors: Barbara Kopple, Thomas Haneke

Screenwriters: Barbara Kopple, Ali MacLean
Producer: Barbara Kopple
Executive producers: Allen Newman, Jeff Rowland
Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz
Editor: Thomas Haneke
Venue: Hot Docs

103 minutes