Youth without a cause, but with the longing for revolution
I met up with director Matthew Lessner at a screening of his first feature film ”The Woods”. His satire about a bunch of disillusioned young Americans who move out into the woods has been praised as one of the most interesting depictions to date of how developments of digital society have affected young people today.
By Antonia Nessen
“This film started from that point about being part of this generation,” Matthew says. “I’ve had this feeling for most of my adult life, people being conscious of all the crazy shit that is going on in the world and responding really ineffectively to that. The film is very much making fun of the inefficiencies that I recognize in myself and the people around me.”
“The Woods” was filmed in August 2008 in Matthew’s childhood forest outside Lookingglass in Oregon. It took time to distribute it, and the production was financed with overdrawn credit cards. The group in the film is made up of hipsters with a Peter Pan complex, who hardly remember life before high-speed Internet other than as an idealized early 90s. But they want to connect with the land and long to give meaning to words like revolt and manifesto. The problem is how they can do that:
“All they are doing is bringing their normal modern life out into the woods,” says Matthew. “They think it is cool that they can be tweeting about the fact they are living in the woods and that gives them some sort of credibility.”
Matthew is visibly proud that they during filming were able to stay detached from what was happening on the Internet. Young people today seem to find it more difficult to find answers to the global problems than previous generations. Is it simply that we aren’t as connected to reality? Maybe.
I had lunch with my 90-year-old grandfather a few hours before the interview. He once told me about his first time sitting in a car; he was five. The year was 1926 and some Swedish-American man had brought back his black Model T Ford to southern Sweden. It was one of those with a hand crank. Perhaps it’s true that the development from the 1920s Model T to the iPhone 4s simply has gone too fast? That people oppose new technology is otherwise by no means a new phenomenon. Back when railroads were being built, people complained that time was accelerating and that train rides could induce hallucinations. But at the same time, there was a different optimism for the future than there is today. Utopia was still conceivable, and it was also a trend in the beginning of the 20th century. The literature from this time is packed with fantasy worlds.
But a few decades later, literature had become more bleak, with dystopias like Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”. Another example of failed utopian projects can be found in 1970s anthropology. The American Napoleon Chagnon became world famous for his long-term fieldwork among the Yanomamö, a society of tribal Amazonians. But even this paradise would turn into a nightmare. The competition amongst anthropologists led to fatal consequences for the people who were the object of study. The researchers’ lack of ethics resulted in accusations about sexual abuse of children, and even genocide. Brazilian director José Padilha brilliantly chronicles this in the documentary “Secrets of the Tribe”.
Back to Matthew Lessner. He says that in the three years that have passed since filming, he has somewhat changed his attitude towards the hipster environment he satirizes in the movie. Now with Occupy Wall Street, he is no longer as critical. And he also has more hope for the future: “I feel a little bit different now with everything that has happened with the Occupy movement, which is obviously still evolving, but is at least a step in the right direction and I consider myself part of what’s going on.”
During the interview Matthew talked about that it’s hard to change the fact that even if we don’t want to be a part of the system that uses and abuses people in other parts of the world, it can be hard to escape it. This leaves us with a claustrophobic feeling.
The same feeling forces the characters in “The Woods” out into the forest, but a researcher like Maria Jonstrup into the lab. Is it really that difficult to actually make a difference? For Maria Jonstrup, a doctor in biotechnology at the Faculty of Engineering, Lund University the answer to that question is no. She has developed a new, environmentally friendly purification process, which leaves only clean water after textile dying. Textile dying is one of the most environmentally hazardous parts of the garment industry. The process releases harmful chemicals that are difficult to break down into the groundwater and rivers. Countries like India, China and Bangladesh are particularly affected. According to Maria the situation could be very different, using straightforward methods. Her solution is technologically simple, so the main focus of the project is on the right to clean water and land for farming.
”But the most important work is to think about which chemicals are added from the beginning,” Maria says. “Instead of like me focusing on purifying what comes out. By choosing safer chemicals, the conditions for the factory workers will also improve.”
Maria is applying for grants to fund the project, but despite a lot of media attention, there has not been much response from the Swedish textile importers that work with factories in the affected countries. Maria is quite surprised, “We asked if they were interested in the project, and they were perhaps worried about the costs, or they don’t see it as their job to support research.”
“It’s so easy to disregard things just because they are happening in a different part of the world. I believe the most important thing is to think over your buying habits. Perhaps it’s better to buy a good quality shirt, than ten cheap ones that will never last? Buy vintage clothes and trade with friends when you get tired of wearing them.”