A ‘Generation Wealth’ is examined: How the American Dream has spread
“Generation Wealth” will screen in the Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Premieres program at the following locations and dates:
- Thu. 1/18, 8:30 p.m., MARC, PC
- Sat. 1/20, 3:00 p.m., Temple, PC
- Sun. 1/21, 6:00 p.m., Broadway 6, SLC
- Thu. 1/25, 8:30 a.m., Prospector, PC
- Sat. 1/27, 6:00 p.m., Sundance Resort, Provo
Lauren Greenfield has made a career out of documenting the lives of the 1 percent, though she says it’s less about them and more about how they reflect the desires of the remaining 99 percent. She’s done this through multiple documentary works, including “The Queen of Versailles,” which won the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Directing Award in 2012. No stranger to Utah, she’s also exhibited her work in Salt Lake City.
The director sees her entry in Sundance this year, “Generation Wealth,” as a culmination of all of the work that came before it and as a personal journey for herself as well.
“I’ve always, in my work, looked at the extremes to understand the mainstream,” Greenfield said. “It was really about how there was a little bit of David and Jackie (Siegel, the subjects of ‘Versailles’) in all of us.”
“Generation Wealth” is the narrated documentary that will kick off this year’s festival. In it, Greenfield explores how the shifting goalposts of the “American Dream” have been exported across continents by following the lives of the ultrawealthy not only in the U.S., but in communist and formerly communist states. The documentary maker returns to subjects she has covered in the past, like the Siegels.
“Really, I was looking at how capitalism exploits insecurity,” Greenfield said. “And in a way it’s based on this idea of people wanting to be other than they are, and that creating a great market, a great drive for selling people stuff.”
In America, the events of the past few years have thrown into stark relief the effects of capitalism and created an appetite for people to reflect upon and critique the system, said Greenfield.
“In a way, the tragedy is that everybody is aspiring to be wealthy and to have the trappings of wealth at a time when we’ve never had less social mobility,” Greenfield said.
Greenfield says the election of Donald Trump in 2016, against all predictions and historical precedent, was a curveball that illustrated what her work is about.
“What happened when Trump became president is that we realized this world of reality TV, this world of celebrity, this world of over the top wealth, this world of the degradation of culture, too, can’t be looked away from,” Greenfield said. “It’s our life, it’s our politics, it’s our mainstream. It’s not something that we can choose to ignore.”
And while the filmmaker says her work could have stood alone without a wealthy, pugnacious, extravagant television personality making it to the Oval Office, the presence of Trump only serves to further validate her life’s mission.
“Looking back, the writing is kind of on the wall with the work,” Greenfield said. “This work is about the culture that made Donald Trump possible.”
The filmmaker says she hopes the Sundance audience, composed largely of media and entertainment figures, comes away with questions about American culture.
“A lot of the work, in a way, is about seeing,” Greenfield said. “It’s about consciousness, it’s about waking up.”
Greenfield said she’s excited for the film, which she describes as not having a genre, to open up the festival on Thursday, Jan. 18.
“Sundance has been kind of my graduate school. … It’s just a really special place for me, I feel like it’s where I’ve learned filmmaking,” she said. “(‘Generation Wealth’) was this epic journey for me as an artist and as a filmmaker.”
Greenfield is scheduled to sign copies of “Generation Wealth,” the accompanying book to the film, which includes images from the film as well as from her photography exhibit of the same name, at Dolly’s Bookstore at 510 Main Street on Sunday, Jan. 21, at 12:30 p.m.
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