The numbers are terrifying. This is the first generation in American history that is not going to have a better life than one before. That’s the reality. It reminds me of the amazing Kevin Gilbert who in his song Goodness Gracious sang: “Goodness Gracious of apathy I sing, The baby boomers had it all and wasted everything, Now recess is almost over and they won’t get off the swing.” And that was 1997. How much worse is it now?
Yet the millienials can be some of the most positive people, some of the biggest dreamers, some of the most inspiring people. Maureen Judge’s MY MILLENNIAL LIFE views the world through the eyes and actions of five twenty-somethings. As the documentary plays out, we watch them trying to adapt and navigate their way into adulthood amid a dismal economic reality that creeps into all aspects of their lives. But the documentary is just one part of the project, a cross platform interactive journey that includes webisodes from each subject, episodic web series that zoom in on one subject’s unique story, personality and approach, and theme-based stories of expectations, work, love, (in)dependence and reality that feature all the subjects.
Canadian filmmaker Judge (whose somewhat disturbing documentary LIVING DOLLS I had the opportunity of world-premiering at Austin Film Festival) has a keen eye for characters – not judging, but also not letting them off the hook for the idiosyncrasies. MY MILLENNIAL LIFE never loses touch with the plight in which these young adults find themselves. You know whenever I write ‘young adult,’ I think of “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent” or “The Maze Runner.” There are no life or death obstacle courses to run in this movie, but reality can be much more disheartening.
Our characters are Hope, living at home and ‘graduate’ of five internships, Meron, a chambermaid with dreams of being an investigative journalist at Vice, James, a college dropout at the head of a tech start-up. Then there’s Tim, a heavy metal bass player who transcribed insurance claims by day, and Emily, an emotional roller coaster heading back to school to get a another degree to kickstart her job hopes.
“Rather than looking at millennials as a statistic, the way they’re treated in so many articles and posts,” says Judge, “we chose to delve deeper and capture our subjects, and their challenges and dreams over the period of a year or more. We tried to step into their shoes and show their perceptions of the world.”
I had a chance to sit down with Judge at the Portland Film Festival where MY MILLENNIAL LIFE received its US Premiere.
Maureen Judge: I do. I have two. I have a 22-year-old daughter. She was in university at the time when I was filming, so she wasn’t quite of the same age group as this but she is now. And I have a 26-year-old who had just graduated who was involved in doing some of the music and did four of the songs in it.
BEARS: So was there anything about their experiences that made you want to make this movie?
Judge: So, no, but maybe. I kind of discovered it, because at first I was just thinking of Europe and Spain and Greece where fifty percent of the twenty-five year olds were unemployed, and this was five years ago when the countries were going bankrupt.
BEARS: I’m sure it’s much better now.
Judge: Oh yeah, right. So, my daughter went to Spain for a year to teach English and it’s almost nothing to live. She said, ‘oh I ate for like 2.50 and we had a bottle of wine for twenty-five cents.’ And I just thought, ‘oh my God!’ I just thought it was a tragedy and it struck me probably without me realizing it because I have those kids in that same age group in my home. And I thought, ‘well, maybe I should look in my own backyard.’ I started looking into North America — there’s still double the unemployment for any other age group. It’s 50% of twenty-five year olds are unemployed or underemployed. I then looked in my own household and I was in denial first – ‘but not my kids.’ As I started filming, it was like ‘yeah, these are my kids.’ My kids are millennials and they are very typical of millennials, which isn’t about how intelligent or smart or creative or anything. They’re just part of that generation and they’re part of the fallout. They’re having to deal with what that means.
BEARS: Did you ever think about filming them?
Judge: That would have been a different documentary about mother and children, mother and adult kids.
Judge: That was sort of a conscious decision. I thought if they weren’t living their parents, then why should their parents be in it? I did in fact do some filming of Emily and her parents because she had talked about her mother and being kicked out. In the end, when we were editing, I just got rid of it. I just thought that’s not what the film is. For Hope’s scenes [because she is living at home], it was important because part of her growth period was trying to find her independence from her parents. And of course, she does but then she ends up in another very controlling relationship.
BEARS: They almost all have some relationship to their parents that is talked about in the film, but how much you show of the parents in the film seems to be completely dependent upon the character.
Judge: Absolutely. James will go and visit his parents a few times a year and they support him, but that’s not who he’s living with.
BEARS: We never saw Tim’s parents, right? Or never saw any mention of it.
BEARS: There’s that idea that every generation is supposed to do better than the generation before them and I think the first generation that that’s probably not going to be true— in Canada and America.
Judge: In Western Culture. It’s also a little bit about consumerism and the whole philosophy. It’s also like every business is supposed to keep growing and growing and growing but how can they keep growing? What does that mean, after a point? With the whole economy, we’re going to really have to look at things philosophically too, or it’ll happen.
BEARS: In a documentary like this you’re not coming in with an agenda. You don’t have a set of, ‘this is what I want to get out of this interview,’ right? I’m just remembering with the doll documentary, you’re going to look at their collections, you’re going to talk about the dolls, you have sort of an idea what that’s going to be. In this case, you’re talking about their life. How do you approach them?
BEARS: About how much time when you’re going to meet up with somebody are you sitting with them? How long is the shoot? On a normal film set, you’re doing 12 hours a day. If you say ‘hi, I’m going to follow you for 12 hours’, they’d be like ‘I’m gonna kill you.’
Judge: Yeah, I’ll do half days but I do half days more for economic reasons or because there’s nothing going on. I’ll try to fit in another half day on the same day with another subject for budget reasons, because you’re hiring photographers and the sound people. I would rather spend a whole day with somebody. With Hope we got fantastic material also because we were in Philadelphia on two occasions for three and four concentrated days, and then in Nashville it was two days. You get a lot more material if you’re with them but they’re really tired after. We’re tired. I’m so tired in the end.
Judge: It takes a lot of energy. The days tend to be very focused. With Hope, we went to see this Break-Up Park where she broke up with all of her boyfriends. That brings up all sorts of stories. They’re not in the film but suddenly I learn more about her, and potentially there was stuff there. I must have an hour’s worth of diaries because she had been writing them since she was 8 years old. They’re amazing. In the end, of course, I can’t use most of them.
BEARS: But you can in the multimedia version that you’ve got online, right? So tell me about that! For a project like this, it makes so much sense to have a more modern edge component to how you’re delivering it.
Judge: Three of the subjects are the same in the interactive documentary. Two are additional subjects. I didn’t want to make it exactly the same so I tried to use some other scene material. Because it was very expensive to do the interactive, if they worked as scenes, I pulled them over into the iDoc, so I didn’t incorporate a lot of new material. I still have all this fantastic material, as we always do, that we can’t use. I also wanted to make it unique. For a long time, the associated web component would be leftovers, and I wanted it to be completely new. But I had to do that for the funding reasons. There’s government funding and contracts involved – and they were funded separately.
Judge: What happened was I was trying to get my funding together and I thought I’m going to miss these people. When you’re young and you’re trying to make your life go – things happen fast. And I’m trying to get my funding together and I can’t afford to get a crew and I know a lot of these people maybe do diaries – so I said can y’all do diaries for me. Not more than two minutes each time, but can you them? The girls did them and the boys didn’t. Emily’s were just so fantastic. I didn’t need to be there for her to do them. They were usable in the film and I thought the others weren’t as interesting or as exciting. Not because of the subject matter, but I think some people are just more comfortable in front of a camera than other people. They needed a director more. So I thought I would make Emily the video girl.
BEARS: She also sort of had a cinematic set up to the way she was taking the shots.
Judge: Yeah, she had it in her head, right? She kinda knew. She could get emotional on screen without anyone else there, so it was very useable. She also gave it some nice back story. It also made her special – that became her special thing. We’re always looking for what works for each of the characters or each of the subjects.
Judge: That’s what I liked about Tim. He was really sensitive BUT he had an edge. He was also quite an intellectual. I had Marx’s rants that I didn’t include. But James, I really liked and I knew that James was gonna work when we went out the first day shooting. … We came home after the first day of shooting and [my cinematographer and my sound person – both men]just LOVED him— they LOVED HIM. I thought, ‘oh good this means men will like the film.’ I liked having the alpha male in there who actually has a sense of humor and who is quite sensitive too, but he has a lot of bluster.
BEARS: I think that it’s important that people are examining something like this as it’s happening. Did you ever think about that? You’re giving a voice to something in the moment, not just their lives but also this generation. I think normally when we talk about generations, we’re doing fifteen years after the fact.
Judge: You know I actually didn’t think that. I wanted to do it and I was by inspired young people. But the Toronto critics, they did say that. So I thought, ‘oh, that’s cool!’
BEARS: It’s a generational time-capsule. It’s less about the age and it’s more about the generation.
Judge: It totally is. It just happens to be that age that I captured them at and you become involve with through the individual but of course, it’s bigger than that.
MY MILLENIAL LIFE made its US Premiere at Portland Film Festival. You can check out the interactive doc at http://mymillenniallife.ca