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New Woodstock documentary celebrates the kindness of strangers

New Woodstock documentary celebrates the kindness of strangers

How does one make a documentary about Woodstock that improves upon the legendary Woodstock documentary from the 70’s? How do you capture that kind of energy on screen again? Haven’t we seen everything there is to see about Woodstock already?

Well, Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation doesn’t reach the groundbreaking heights of the 1970 film. This modern Woodstock is more interested in the folks behind the scenes and the organization of the festival itself, and it’s better for it.

The whole film plays like a solid PBS documentary… because it is. It was made with PBS to release as a companion piece celebrating 50 years from the original Woodstock. We never see the narrators of the film, they remain behind the scenes, like they did during the festival. Woodstock brought peace and love at a time when young people were unsure and scared for their future. The Vietnam War was a dark shadow over their lives, and Woodstock gave them a chance to escape. To tune in, drop out, and drop into the vibes from some the greatest rock, folk, and blues bands of all time.

This Woodstock film is a celebration of the human kindness the festival brought into the world and a celebration of the mundane. For instance, there is a whole section dedicated to timing bathroom trips at Madison Square Garden to see how many bathrooms they would need in the Woodstock field. 

The most touching moment is when the town of Waskill heard the kids of Woodstock were out of food. The community of farmers and self-described “hicks” gathered together and started giving free food to the “hippies” attending the festival. They took care of a community that was disrupting their regular way of life, but it didn’t matter. People were good to one another. They shared.

When choosing between fences and a stage, the creators chose a stage. They chose a stage because, while a lack of boundaries causes cacophony, a lack of entertainment causes a riot. Those “kids in the field would have nothing to do.” In stark contrast to the failed Fyre Festival, and the crazy documentaries about that mess, the creators of Woodstock (also overwhelmed by the Festival turn out) gave the festival away.  Money became secondary and executing the damn thing became the reason for the moment.

This documentary is even paced and calm. For every catastrophe, every flash flood warning, every threat of electrocution, every hint of death by substances, there’s a silver lining. Only two people died at Woodstock. A person sleeping under a tracker trailer, and one overdose. There were 500,000 people attending, and only two casualties. Doctors volunteered their time, did their best, and the music played on.

Watching Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation may not have profoundly moved and changed me like the original Woodstock documentary did when I first saw it as a precocious pre-teen, but it did make me feel a little less cynical about our own scary times.

“If 400,00 people could get together have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like we could change the world.”

Stray thought:




 Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation opens in Philly theaters today.

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