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This Time It’s Personal: Lauren Greenfield and ‘Generation Wealth’

"It's part photographic journey of an artist, part historical essay, part character-driven narrative and part personal film."

Making her documentary Generation Wealth, admits photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield “was a really challenging creative journey,”

For the film, Greenfield investigates the factors that have created the richest society the world has ever seen, exploring consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging, and more. A personal journey, historical essay and entertaining expose, Generation Wealth explores the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Read more: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: Generation Wealth Looks at the Dark Side of the Dream

Listen to Greenfield interviewed on Film Threat here.

“I’m usually photographing and filming people that I like—that I identify with or empathize with in some way,” Greenfield tells Eileen G’Sell. “I try to show that in this film by showing the connections between my own life and the people and phenomenon I was drawn to. I tried to really show why people do the things they do, and show it from their point of view. 

“One of the things I love about film is that, even more than photography, it allows you to walk in somebody’s shoes and empathize with them. With the stories in this film, you might begin by thinking somebody is extreme or crazy or has screwed-up values, but by the end, you hopefully understand why they made the choices they did. By including myself, I wanted the audience to feel that this problem isn’t just about somebody else; it’s about you and it’s about me.” To read the full interview, click here.

“I also had to turn the camera on myself and consider why I was attracted to these subjects and why I had been returning to these questions about the culture of consumerism for so long,” Greenfield admits. “A big part of my work, though, is about how we’re all complicit.”

“I’ve always been a straight reportage, cinema vérité, stay-out-of-your-own-story documentarian, but this story swept me in because it was a process of looking back over my work,” she tells Darianna Cardilli. “I was the connective tissue that was bringing these teams, subjects and ideas together, so my voice was required—first as a narrator, more as an observer, but as I got deeper and deeper into it, I started interviewing people in my own family, in the beginning just as representatives of their own generation. It was not part of the original plan because it’s not in my photography. 

“The work is really about values, and I started thinking about the conflict between my parents’ values and the values I saw in the culture. I started seeing it as this conflict between legacy and agency.” To read the full interview, click here.

“When we started [editing], we had 4″x6″ index cards—like scene cards—but each one was a different character,” she says. “They covered an entire wall. It was overwhelming and hard to figure out where to start. It was a huge process of winnowing everything down.

“You can’t have everything in a film, and the nature of my work is very expansive and essayistic. It really depends on multiple characters and on repetition, on seeing that the same things are happening in Iceland, California, Florida and Dubai.

“Yet, in a movie, this kind of repetition can become tedious very quickly. I would say that we really pursued almost all of the narrative threads, and, in the end, there were several characters that really had their own arcs and their own evolutions that I found incredibly compelling and also spoke to the bigger issues of the idea of ‘generation wealth.’ Even so, the first cut was probably 4.5 hours. 

“Luckily, after a marathon edit and many hours spent staring at the wall of photos and cards, we found a balance between the fascinating stories of a small group of characters, and the larger essay.

“Much of it evolved in the edit room, and I ended up spending 30 months in the edit, which is probably three times longer than I’ve spent on any other movie. I had always intended to be a part of the movie as a narrator, but as the process went on, it ended up becoming more personal.

“This is part of why the film took me so long and was such an evolution to complete. It’s part photographic journey of an artist, part historical essay, part character-driven narrative and part personal film. I tried to weave together all of those strands to tell a story that, in the end, is not about me, or about my work, or about the characters, but really a bigger story about where we’ve come to as a culture, and where we are as a society.”



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