#ReGeneration – Interview with STS9 and the Filmmakers

Last week, I attended the San Francisco screening of the documentary ReGeneration, a film about young people and activism. As an activist and STS9 fan, it's a film I've been excited to see for a while and it's great to see that ReGeneration is finally making its premier in cities around the country.

Parts of the film are narrated by Ryan Gosling (hey girl!) and the entire score is done by STS9, who participate heavily in the film. The band was present for the screening which took place the night before their two night run at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

I have to say, I loved this movie.

What I expected to see was a movie about apathy. What I saw was a film about empathy and human potential. It seems like there has been in trend in recent years of documentaries that focus on the doom and gloom of humankind, warning us of our inevitable demise at our own hands. Happily, ReGeneration takes a different approach. It highlights our unique ability to create social change through action by drawing on examples from the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam war, and comparing that to the relative inaction of this generation - particularly our lack of protest against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ReGeneration takes a much needed look at our dependence on technology and how our rapidly growing disconnect with the natural world is impacting our care and concern for the issues that we know are important, but feel too insignificant to act on.  It's an exploration of ideas and questions through discussion - not 90 minutes of preaching an agenda or regurgitating statistics. And most of those questions aren't fully answered. They're explored to a point where you're left thinking about going to find your own answers. It's not an easy task for a documentary to achieve but writer/director Phil Montgomery and producer Matt DeRoss do it with grace.

What I found surprising about ReGeneration was the level of involvement that STS9 had in the vision of the film. I assumed that the band only provided the soundtrack but they were intimately involved in the project from day one. They've always been a socially active band through their work with groups like HeadCount, Make it Right, and Conscious Alliance, and they have a unique musical ability to send a message without ever singing a lyric. For me, that's a part of what made the film so great - seeing these guys engaged in insightful discussion among themselves or with the late Howard Zinn. You'll also hear from Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Noam Chomsky, and from those inside the halls of a Midwest high school.

I had a chance to sit down with the film's producers, Matt DeRoss and Phil Montgomery, and with Hunter Brown and Jeffree Lerner of STS9 to talk a little bit about the film. Here's part of our discussion:

What is ReGeneration about? 

Phil MontgomeryThe movie is intended to be a generational movie about the state of activism in today's society by looking at what is happening and what is not. And when we looked at what is happening, we really wanted to ask the question: 'is that enough?'

Matt DeRoss: There is an unbelievable amount of material that didn't make it into the film. We had so many questions and dug so deep - we went to Japan with these guys [STS9] a long time ago and a whole section on globalization came out, and it was, in our humble opinion, wonderfully done - but it felt like one step too far in terms of waking people up. A lot of documentaries are one specific topic and a lot of them are incredibly effective but we wanted to try something different and go in a bunch of different directions but touch specifically enough on three or four different topics.

What inspired you guys to make this film? 

Hunter Brown: I think it was a confluence of events in our personal and collective lives. 9/11, the war in Iraq, Katrina, to name three - really painted a picture for us that we didn't know how to interpret. As friends, in talking about it, reading similar things, inspired by similar things, the conversation we were having together combined with our professions and interests, we thought we could come up with a piece of art that tried to deal with these things for personal reasons really. You know, it wasn't like 'we want to teach the world what we think,' it was more like we wanted to find answers from people that inspire us.

How and why did STS9 decide to get involved with ReGeneration? 

Phil: Like Hunter said, really it started as a conversation with friends. STS9 are our friends and really it was just that simple. We were talking and asking these big questions and decided to put the camera in their faces and start making a piece of art and start asking them these questions. It wasn't an issue of 'why choose STS9' - it was just 'it is STS9.'

Matt: I grew up in this small rigid community in Florida which is very much the south and as a music lover, I looked up to STS9. They're my age and I saw that they were doing what they wanted to do on their own terms and in their own voice and it was deeply inspiring. As musicians who have a loud voice,  for them to speak outside of what they do onstage was incredibly courageous and is really something we're trying to inspire within people through the ReGeneration. 

Hunter: And for us, it really did come about organically as friends. I think the first couple conversations we had about a project that we wanted to do together was more about inspiration. We wanted to talk about where inspiration came from and talk with some of our friends and the people we've come across, and when we started getting into that it didn't seem as important as these other things that were happening in the world around us and our conversation changed and so did the movie. 

The film touches on a lot of important issues and ideas, but is there one message you really wanted to get across?

Jeffree Lerner: Use your voice, you are powerful. 

Matt: Stand up for what you believe in. 

Hunter: Try. 

Phil: The film really started as a call to action. 

Jeffree: Really, a call to action to ourselves - to our own action. We as a band had an audience and these guys were at a place where they could make a movie. It was something we couldn't have done on our own and something they couldn't have done on their own. I think it's testament to where I was before this process started - deflated feelings of what I could do and now to see this film and what can happen when like minded people work together is powerful. Howard Zinn hits on that in the movie - on finding those like minded people and working together. The process for us as a band has sparked incredible growth for all of us.

Where do you see an organization like HeadCount in helping to solve some of the problems that are highlighted in the film?

Phil: I think it's vital to our democracy that an organization like [HeadCount] is there to open eyes and show people how easy it is to just be a participant in this democracy. There's a big problem that we all face when it comes to cynicism and apathy within our own system and I think it's so paramount that organizations like HeadCount promote the importance of civic engagement.

Hunter: At a show you have hundreds of people together connected by music and HeadCount is able to tap into that empathy and energy that's created by the live crowd and focus it toward a more meaningful tool for change.

Jeffree: I think what we try to get across in the movie about voting, and what you guys do at HeadCount, is to get people to realize that voting is a start. You said earlier that HeadCount allows people to write letters to Congress about issues they care about - that's just as important as a vote - maybe its even more important, more direct, and it's breaking down a barrier between a person and their government. 

Learn more about the film, find an upcoming screening, or organize your own screening of ReGeneration, by visiting: http://www.regeneration-themovie.com/

Check out the trailer:

Check out a clip featuring STS9:

Pictured above, HeadCount blogger on Perri with STS9 and ReGeneration Producers Phil Montgomery and Matt DeRoss.