Today (July 23) marks the 22nd anniversary of Woodstock ‘99 festival, and a new HBO documentary fittingly titled “Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love and Rage” takes audiences back to the violence-filled, three-day music festival that turned from a celebration into riots, looting and sexual assaults.
Director Garret Price, who also served as co-editor alongside Avner Shiloah, opens the film with scenes from the original, peace-and-love Woodstock festival before plunging into the very different 1999 version, which was headlined by heavy bands like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit.
Price and Shiloah give audiences behind-the-scenes insight through rare archival footage and interviews that help explain why the festival became known as “The day the ‘90s died.”
Why did you open with footage from the original Woodstock festival?
Garret Price: I wanted it to feel like a ‘90s teen movie — a road-trip movie, where we leaned into the music of the time. I want this to be like a teen-slasher film, where you have a bunch of kids going upstate for a weekend of debauchery, drinking, sex, rock and roll. I took that idea and ran with it.
It was important to go back to 1969, set it up, and use that as a framing device and the mythology around Woodstock and the Woodstock name. I think Woodstock is so huge because of the documentary itself. I feel like a lot more people feel like they were at Woodstock because they saw the film and felt that they were there, but I also had a lot of cultural context that I wanted to introduce throughout the film.
Avner Shiloah: That opening was the first thing that he put together, and we were off to the races. It was so smart to introduce that clip from 1969 because it just tells you so much and the contrast between theology and reality. That opening also introduces [original Woodstock co-producer] Michael Lang, the Willy Wonka of music festivals. So having that juxtaposition between that and the ‘60s created that feeling that draws you in.
The archival footage is fascinating. How much was out there, considering 1999 was before the cellphone generation?
Price: People had handicams. There is something so real from the ‘90s, versus the selfie generation now where people can redo and redo. I had an incredible archivist that hunted people down on YouTube and Twitter and found all these sources in the basements to tell their story from different points of view. These are kids who weren’t professional filmmakers — it was archival boots-on-the-ground footage that gave us a story we had never seen before. The things people were saying on camera, thinking it would never be seen again — you could see people acted very differently.
Avner, can you talk about finding the balance of interviews, archival footage and performances?
Shiloah: When I started, Garrett’s mandate was that every performance had to have value beyond [the performance]. We’re both music lovers and we could have spent a long time with each performance, but each one needed to be a launchpad into a discussion of a deeper issue and cultural context. Whether it was talking about [the 1999 mass shooting at] Columbine, sexual assaults, or the birth of the internet and Napster, everything had to be justified by having a larger context.
We had to find the right balance between the fun and something thought-provoking. The footage people had was gold. You can easily become a clip show, but having this authentic footage made it unique.
What was the most challenging part of telling this story that you say hasn’t been told before?
Price: You don’t want to preach. It was about giving enough context for people to think. It was about weighing out all the things that surrounded this festival, whether it was the socio-political or culture, and what was in the zeitgeist of the late ‘90s.
I remember watching TV [at the time] and a “Girls Gone Wild” commercial would come on, with my parents sitting there. It’s a weird thing to go back and think about that normalized behavior toward women. It was also an exploration for me to go back, and how did I act during that time? One of my goals with this film is to pull people in with nostalgia, and then make them think about how they acted in the late ‘90s as opposed to where we are now.