"Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation" is a new look at the iconic festival
“Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation,” opens with chaos. Understaffed, overcrowded and unprepared, the festival crew is shown trying to adapt to a thunderstorm that could potentially derail the whole festival.
“Everything that could possibly go wrong was happening,” Woodstock co-creator Joel Rosenman said in the documentary. It’s one of the many moments in the film “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation” where everything could’ve gone very wrong, but didn’t.
Instead of focusing on the concert itself, director Barak Goodman focuses on the audience and crew. “There’s already been a great film about the concert itself; the original documentary was a concert film,” Goodman said in a phone interview with The Eagle. “What made Woodstock special was the crowd and how those 450,000 young people rallied together to overcome what could’ve been a disaster.”
“We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of the great concert called Woodstock,” said Goodman. “This story really distilled the meaning of what the counterculture was all about.”
It’s no surprise that Goodman feels this way, as the documentary chronicles event after event where disaster is eminent yet solved through the compassion of the concertgoers. Locals banded together to bring whatever supplies they could, and concert-goers became volunteer servers during a shortage of food and water.
The documentary includes nearly two hours of archived footage from the festival.
“The archive came from Warner Brothers, which owned the outtakes of the original documentary film,” said Goodman.
“Woodstock,” the original documentary directed by Michael Wadleigh in 1970, focuses on the performances of artists like Joan Boaz and Jimi Hendrix rather than the audience or making of Woodstock.
“It ended up being over 40 hours of never-before-seen outtakes and footage of the crowd. At that point, we realized that we could really tell the story in a full way and really put people in the concert, fully immersed,” said Goodman
Goodman and his team sorted through the archive, which was completely out of order and contained no sound. To remedy this, more than 40 concert-goers, musicians and crew members were interviewed and their voices were played over the footage, giving the documentary a clear narrative structure.
“We knew we wanted to tell a chronological narrative, but we wanted to feature the dramatic moments—when the food runs out, when the best bands go on, when the rainstorm hits. It’s these moments that define the narrative film, so we combined the story with the footage to create a seamless narrative,” said Goodman.
“Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation,” is one of about 30 films created by Goodman, and it’s a part of PBS’s American Experience, a series of documentaries aiming to chronicle the most important events in American history.
“A lot of my understanding of Woodstock, like most people, came from the concert movie, so I thought of it mostly as a rock and roll concert, a great one,” Goodman said.“What I didn’t understand was the crazy story behind the scenes, backstage, all the chaos and the fear of disasters that they encountered that weekend, and all of the small and not-so-small acts of heroism by all kinds of people stepping up to help to avoid disaster.”
By focusing on the team-work and the ethos of the festival, Goodman brings a new depth to one of the most iconic events of the 1960s. While Woodstock has been heavily mythologized in pop culture, “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation” is an optimistic and deeply human portrayal of those three days in Bethel, New York.
“Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation” is in select theaters now.
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