Director: Phillip Montgomery
The social activism documentary subgenre is a rich one, but the best of these sorts of willfully disquieting films — like “The Corporation,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” – aren’t merely reflexive sermons to the choir, but instead movies that try to root down into systemic injustice, abuse, fraud and scientific rejection, in a fervent effort to expose the cost of continued social apathy and silence. Narrated by Ryan Gosling, the slim but still thought-provoking “#ReGENERATION” slots in nicely as a minor-chord entry of this sort. Director Phillip Montgomery’s film has an agitator’s soul, and that’s perhaps a good thing.
Focused on the twin pillars of education and the media, and how they impact and influence everything from our occupational pursuits to social thinking and avocational interests, “#ReGENERATION” explores some of the galvanizing forces behind the Occupy Wall Street movement (hence its hash tag title), and the present state of social angst and activism. The film has a deep and engaging roster of talking heads — interviewees include Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Talib Kweli, “Adbusters” publisher Kalle Lasn and Michael Albert, the founder of “Z Magazine” — but Montgomery also endeavors to give his undertaking a sort of millennial generation Everyman gloss. Thusly, one strand focuses on a collective of musicians, Georgia-based STS9, working outside the corporate system; another gives voice to students and administrators at Eagen High School, a suburb of Minneapolis; and another still focuses on a conservative, married twentysomething couple about to welcome their second child.
Alienation from nature and our ever-increasing reliance on the Internet are debated as potential causes for both an empathy deficit and a collective lack of analytical skills. Chomsky and others speak also eloquently about how, beyond debate over the right-versus left “conflagration machine,” the mass media is shaped to distract – so that the latest news (or non-news) about Anna Nicole Smith’s estate or Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian is “worth” more than, say, 655,000 dead Iraqis. If our culture avoids and shuns debates over issues and instead repeatedly communicates the ideas of garbage rising to the top, “nice guys” finishing last, and that poverty and injustice and violence are forever, what does this bode for the future?
Clocking in at but 80 minutes, Montgomery’s film doesn’t drag. But if there’s a knock against it, it’s that the subject matter is so rangy that it could certainly use a bit tighter editing focus — a fierce honing of intent and argument. As is, it’s energy than sustains and recommends it, more than lingering powerhouse insight. Still, the boisterous “#ReGENERATION” paints a commingled ghastly and hopeful portrait of early 21st century America and some of the changes and challenges we need to face, and it’s not a picture from which you can readily look away.
Written by: Brent Simon