Sundance 2018: Lauren Greenfield premieres documentary 'Generation Wealth,' dire look at America obsessed with money, image
Director furthers her 25-year study of consumer and celebrity culture, and questions costs of her own artistic pursuits
Director Lauren Greenfield, her family and some of the characters from her documentary "Generation Wealth" at the world premiere of the documentary at Sundance. L-R Bobby J. Strauser (subject), Conrad Homm (subject), Homm's girlfriend, Tiffany Masters (subject), Limo Bob (subject), Patricia Greenfield (subject), director Lauren Greenfield, Gabriel Evers (the director's son and a subject of the film), Noah Evers (the director's son and a subject of the film), Frank Evers (Greenfield's husband, who produced the film and appears in it). Park City, Utah, Thursday, January 18, 2018. Photo by Matt Carey
If anthropologists generations from now want to understand American culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, they would do well to consult the work of Lauren Greenfield.
The acclaimed photographer and filmmaker has demonstrated an uncanny ability to capture the materialistic desperation of our society in a body of work that goes back 25 years now. She has meticulously exposed the hollow core of our obsession with celebrity, money, status, and body image in books of photography and in the documentaries Thin (2006) and Queen of Versailles (2012).
She came to Sundance with her latest film, Generation Wealth, which ties up her longterm thematic concerns in a deeply unsettling package.
"When I started doing this work it was the beginning of MTV and cable TV and then with the internet and social media a lot of the drivers of the trends that I’m looking at have just gotten much more powerful," she told Nonfictionfilm.com on the red carpet for the world premiere Thursday night.
We need only look at who was elected president in 2016 to see how profoundly the idealization of wealth and fame has affected the society. As Greenfield makes clear in her film, China, Russia, Europe and other parts of the world have taken the American example of wealth obsession and run with it.
Director Lauren Greenfield with her family at the world premiere of "Generation Wealth." Her husband Frank Evers produced the documentary. The director, her husband and their sons Gabriel (center) and Noah (right) all appear in the film. Park City, Utah, Thursday, January 18, 2018. Photo by Matt Carey
Generation Wealth explores the psychic cost of the pursuit of empty values on a variety of characters, including a woman whose obsession with plastic surgery may have blinded her to the emotional needs of her suicidal teenage daughter.
German-born investor Florian Homm, who amassed a fortune before being accused of defrauding clients, reckons tearfully with how his pursuit of wealth came at the expense of his relationship with his wife and son.
Even Greenfield, whose values are tightly bound up with artistic expression, questions herself in the film about whether she embarked on projects around the world without fully realizing how her absence would affect her sons Noah and Gabriel.
Amazon and Magnolia Pictures plan to release Generation Wealth theatrically in July 2018. Below, Limo Bob, one of the colorful characters in the documentary, does his thing on the red carpet.
Those familiar with the Annenberg Space for Photography will recall Greenfield opened an exhibit there in April 2017, also called "Generation Wealth," a kind of companion to the documentary. For our story on that, click below.
Related: Lauren Greenfield opens 'Generation Wealth' exhibit in L.A., 'meant as a provocation about who we want to be'
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.