As part of his Young Americans series for VICE, veteran documentary and music video filmmaker Lance Bangs asks youth across the country their views on race, gender, politics and much more.
Numerous brands and organizations have been wracking their brains trying to understand what the youth of the nation really want, so one filmmaker set out to answer this question for himself. Known in indie rock circles for his work with legendary groups like Sonic Youth and Nirvana, Lance Bangs recently embarked on season two of his much beloved docu-series for VICE and Scion AV, Young Americans; a project where Bangs travels cross country, from capital cities to the suburbs, asking millennials questions about what’s most important in their lives. For those unfamiliar, Young Americans gives viewers unprecedented access into the minds of soon-to-be (and already there) adults.
While many claim to understand the issues facing the nation’s fledging generations, Bangs has been working in the trenches, camera and mike in hand, gathering the facts. Though last season took on issues like the economy and voting, this time around Bangs focuses on topics like Coming to America, The Asian-American Experience, Media Representations, Body Image, LGBT, and Cultural Stereotypes (among others). Recently, we spoke with Bangs about what drove him to start the project, how he crafts the interview process, and the myth that this generation is apolitical.
What inspired you to take on this project?
I’m drawn to the adventure of putting yourself out in the world and finding interesting people to film or interview. I’m often around people in their 20’s and was curious about their take on the world around them compared to what it felt like when I was in my 20s.
Though most filmmakers would center their footage around larger cities like NYC or LA. Your destinations seemed to be more representative of how most of America actually looks and lives. What where some of the longer stops you made on your trip?
Footage was shot in Montgomery and Birmingham Alabama, Cherryville North Carolina, Portland, Coronado, Chicago, several regions of Florida, Sacramento, Skaneateles, Missoula, Philadelphia, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, NYC, Athens and Atlanta, New Orleans, Louisville, Carson, Saugus, Santa Clarita, Vancouver Washington, Yuma and across the Mid West.
How did you find your interview subjects?
I keep cameras handy while I’m traveling for other projects, and then take specific trips to hit regions I want to explore for Young Americans. Once the edit starts coming together, I make an effort to get additional interviews to represent regions or viewpoints that aren’t being otherwise reflected.
You’ve done so much work with music documentaries and high profile bands– how did creating this project compare to say, making a music video or a straightforward band profile?
This series is rewarding because it is self steered, in contrast to the collaborations that occur when you work with other people on a music video and have constraints of time of just applying visuals to a track.
Did you approach VICE or did they approach you? It seems like such a great fit, I’m sure our readers would be curious to know how the collaboration evolved.
I’ve produced or directed several other projects over the years with Vice, and had been taking to Eddy Moretti about the election cycle in 2012. He suggested that I head out and directly speak to young people and sort of take their temperature and see what they were really thinking about.
In the past you’ve done a lot of work with Gen X-ers (particularly musicians who’ve come to epitomize the Gen X ethos like Nirvana and Sonic Youth). How do you think that generation compares with the newer Millennial generation, especially when it comes to ideals, interests, or the way they view the media? Not to be leading, but I’m thinking in particular of Gen X’s rejection of mainstream media, and Gen Y’s embrace of it through mediums like reality tv, social media, and the concept of personal identification with big brands.
When I was in my teens and 20s I felt a shared generational antipathy towards the dominant culture and media that served the baby boomer generation. A wide swath of the people I encounter who are in their 20s now seem less agitated and disaffected, but rather tend to embrace the dominant culture perhaps because they see themselves represented in it. People I interviewed explicitly describe thinking of themselves as brands, and working to craft their social identity.
After speaking with so many Millennials on topics ranging from the economy to how important who the president is, are you hopefully about the next generation’s political and social engagement?
Absolutely. I went into the first series worried about people disengaging from activism during the 2012 election cycle, but ended up seeing them turn out and show up at all sorts of civil and social engagements.
What were some common threads you noticed in your interviews?
People felt less anxious and angry than I remembered feeling at their age. Even people in tough economic situations carried themselves sanguinely. There was a sense of accepting lowered expectations but feeling freer because of it, enjoying time doing what they wanted and socializing with other people. While acknowledging current difficulties around them, they tended to remain largely optimistic about where things could go next.
Though you’ve been a professional documentary filmmaker for years, do you ever get tempted to contradict your subjects? I imagine it must be a little rattling to hear so many young people you interview claim to be unable to enact social change, and take on a stance of political apathy.
After I have finished filming people answering questions unchallenged, I tend to keep having a conversation with them and call them out on the things I feel like they haven’t thought through or rigorously considered.
How does the new season differ from season 1?
The second season was based around interviews where I asked more about identity issues, sexuality, gender, racial and cultural dynamics, body issues, and how people percieve anddefine themselves.
What would you ultimately like to see this project evolve into?
I’d like to make a feature length version of the project to serve as a sort of time capsule piece, and then I would be curious to head to other parts of the world beyond the United States.
If you could give one piece of advice to an emerging or aspiring documentary filmmaker, what would it be?
Archive everything, and don’t just film subjects that are louder/more obnoxious than they are interesting.
To watch new episodes of Young Americans, visit Scion AV‘s Youtube page here , and check out Episode 1 of Season 2 below.