Barbara Kopple wasn’t actually at Woodstock (she was studying instead), but like most people coming of age in 1969, she wishes she had been. “We came as a nation out of the Fifties, where people were told you can’t write what you want and you would go to jail for progressive ideas,” says Kopple, who was 23 at the time. “But here was a movement of people who were against the war, who were for women’s liberation and gay rights. Woodstock made you believe you could do and change anything.” Kopple has done her best to make up for missing the real thing. The Academy Award-winning director has spent much of her career chronicling the festival with a series of documentaries including “Woodstock ’94,” “My Generation,” which compares the original festival with those held in 1994 and 1999, and her upcoming film, “Woodstock: Now & Then.”
Premiering on VH1 and VH1 Classic on Friday and on The History Channel Aug. 17, the movie utilizes footage from Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 “Woodstock” documentary, as well as NBC and ABC news coverage and home videos to paint a portrait of the three-day concert.
But Kopple’s documentary isn’t just a look back; it also offers commentary on Woodstock’s lasting influence. “It’s so important to keep the spirit of Woodstock alive for younger generations,” says Kopple, who included reactions from current students at the Paul Green School of Rock Music. “It showed a better sense of humanity. People came together, lived with one another for several days, listened to music and were inspired in a peaceful, uplifting way. It was empowering.”
In terms of first-hand accounts, Kopple interviewed Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld and Carlos Santana, as well as Wadleigh and Richie Havens — two of her favorite participants. “We would not remember Woodstock [the way we do] if it wasn’t for his brilliant camera work,” she says of Wadleigh. As for Havens, “his song ‘Freedom’ gave the audience so much. It was astounding.”
As fascinating as Woodstock’s power players were, Kopple found anecdotes from the audience just as compelling. “I wanted to do a film that would speak to everybody and include people you hadn’t heard from before,” she says. “It was a coming of age, a rite of passage for myself, for my generation,” says Francis Dumaurier at the start of the film. “And that was a turning point on so many levels….It was a spiritual experience.” Kopple was especially moved by the love story of Joe and Gayle Miceli, who met at the concert, which Joe risked losing his job to attend. “Bluntly, I just wanted to get high that night and meet Joe,” Gayle recalls on camera. “So I went over and said, ‘What do you have?’ That was my introduction.…He said, ‘I got some really good LSD.’ And we took it, tripped that night and that just carried on through the weekend.” For Kopple, the Micelis’ story perfectly captures the magic of Woodstock. “If Joe hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have met his wife,” she says. “They’re still together today and have all these grandchildren. Seeing how an event like Woodstock can bring people together is amazing.”