Film ReGENERATION with Chomsky and ZINN
Directed by Phillip Montgomery
During the last presidential election, young people seemed galvanized, responding to a call for action with a level of fervor we hadn't seen since the activism of the 1960s and early 1970s. And then Obama got elected, and everyone largely went back to their jobs and video games and real life, hanging the mantle of responsibility on one man rather than contining to take up the yoke themselves.
What's happened to that energy, that sense of belief that each of us can make a difference in the world? Why are people today -- not just 18-24 year olds, but people generally, so apathetic and cynical? What's the role of technology in all this? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
These are just some of the questions raised in director Phillip Montgomery's ReGeneration, a documentary that's as much a call to action as it is an exploration of the reasons why such a call is needed.
Montgomery was driven to seek out answers to these questions, so he turned to a wide array of people in exploring the issues raised in the film, including philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky, historian and activist Howard Zinn (through archival footage), hip-hop artists Talib Kweli and Mos Def, and a slew of average folks ranging from teachers to high school students to a middle-class married couple expecting their second child. And what he uncovers here is both deeply fascinating and deeply depressing.
Montgomery covers a lot of topics in the film's roughly two-hour running time. He touches on everything from whether parents are a part of the problem, enabling their kids by not expecting (or outright interfering in) consequences for their behavior; to Chomsky's thesis that, from a socio-political standpoint, the pairing of one person with one television is the ideal means by which to control a population without use of force; to whether the time constraints imposed by a consumer-heavy, debt-ridden society that promotes indentured servitude to a "secure" job promotes apathy simply by sucking away so much time that people don't have energy to take action on the issues about what they care; to whether the fact that people today spend less time out in nature contributes to an overall sense of apathy, not just toward environmental problems and stewardship, but to caring genuinely about what happens to other people.
It's an overwhelming amount of information to take in and fully absorb, and the one big issue I have with the film is that it's not about the content of the material, or the decidedly leftist slant it takes (which I happen to agree with), but with the sheer enormity of the problem as it's presented here.
Montgomery sees the primary target audience for ReGeneration as youth, but I have to wonder whether giving a generation of kids so accustomed to getting its information in sound bytes so much to get a handle on might be overwhelming to the extent that, ironically, they leave the film feeling less able to do anything about it all rather than more or tune out altogether. Problem is, I'm also not sure I have a better suggestion for how to handle it.
I think if I were making a film like this, I might be inclined to try to make it more entertaining, to attempt to harness the ways in which kids are accustomed to getting their information and make it a little more fun, perhaps with animated interstitials or music videos from artists like Kweli and Mos Def that speak to those issues or something -- a little spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, as it were. And perhaps breaking it down a bit more into digestible chunks of problems -- in other words, asking kids "what issue do you care most about" and "what are some ways you could make a difference on this one issue?" rather than hitting them with so many at once.
On the other hand, I think ReGeneration would lend itself very well to an educational setting, particularly of, say, a hands-on workshop nature. Show the film, and then put diverse kids into small groups and have them pick a problem, brainstorm in a positive way not just abstract solutions, but practical ways in which they and other youth could make a real impact by addressing a particular problem, and then setting them to task as a group creating a project together and implementing it. Get kids debating and discussing issues, even if they don't agree with the film's take on them, and you've made a start in getting past the apathy that says it doesn't matter.
The filmmaking team behind ReGeneration, without a doubt, has their hearts in the right place. They've made a film here -- a solid documentary, for all that I think it's better suited to educational settings rather than a theatrical run -- that has heart and soul and addresses issues of real importance.
You could almost create an entire curricula around the ideas in this film: ReGeneration: The War in Iraq; ReGeneration: How Corporations Censor and Control Your Access to Information by Controlling the Meda; ReGeneration: How Disconnect from Nature Affects Empathy; and etc. All these issues tie in together -- you can't really separate one from the other -- but there are so many to address that it almost feels as if we're getting the broad strokes of an outline here rather than an in-depth spelunking down into the depths of any one issue at hand.
The greater problem is that getting this film into the hallowed halls of our public school system, particularly in more conservative parts of the country, might in and of itself be a problem. It might work better for the filmmakers (or a distributor, should they land the right one who knows what to do with it) to target, say, progressive private schools, or groups like the socially active Unitarian church's middle and high school youth groups, as a place to start. Get the film seen, and they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so onStumble It!