Every generation has its moment-defining question. For millions of baby boomers, it is: "Where were you when Woodstock happened?"
For the vast majority who didn't actually make it to the three-day music festival in 1969 at Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y., the question is more specific: "When did you first see the film?"
Those celluloid memories provided a soundtrack for the heady days of antiwar protests and the women's liberation movement, and became a symbol of an entire generation trying to change the world. When festival organizers staged a Woodstock 1994 in Saugerties, N.Y., and again in 1999 in Rome, N.Y., many felt they were cheap shots, capitalizing on a concept that went much deeper than making money.
Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple has set out to discover the truth in her film "My Generation" (STARZ!/Encore, 8-9:45 p.m., Aug. 17), which features remarkable new footage, including archival material from the Janis Joplin estate.
Yes, the second and third events were aimed at making money - but as Ms. Kopple suggests, that isn't the most important question to ask. For Kopple, the trilogy of Woodstock films is more important for what it reveals about the youth cultures of each time. Besides, as the film shows, all three festivals lost money.
"I think that 1969 was so much easier," says Kopple, whose 1977 film, "Harlan County, U.S.A.," won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. "We had the women's movement, the antiwar movement, and even if people weren't political, they still had something to hang their hat on." But in 1994 and 1999, times were different.
"There was Greenpeace and some other groups, but it just seemed to be a multitude of issues on the whole prevalence of AIDS and everything else where you couldn't even get close to people."
"In '94, kids were thought of as slackers and people who weren't really going forward and doing things with their lives," says Kopple. "In '99, it was the 'dot-commers,' and instantaneously, people were becoming multimillionaires." The explosion of mass media since the first film has changed audiences, as well. "There was more of an innocence, I think, with the generation of 1969."
And more peace and love, too. Woodstock '99 became notorious for its numerous sexual assaults, rapes, and fires.
Kopple titled the film "My Generation," but it actually encompasses three different periods of music. Concert footage from the '69 event includes Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, and The Who, while 1994 and 1999 feature bands like Rage Against the Machine, Sheryl Crow, The Dave Matthews Band, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"I think what I experienced is that people really need to have a sense of community, a sense of ritual, a sense of being together, listening to the music they love," says Kopple. "And even though the times are very different, we're all very similar."
While Kopple filmed the 1994 and 1999 concerts, she did not attend the first Woodstock.
Organizer Michael Lang has been involved with the Woodstock franchise from the start. He calls the first concert a seminal event. "In '69, there was this amazement that everybody felt, just in terms of the numbers of people that were there," says Mr. Lang, who produced all three Woodstock concerts.
"You felt kind of disconnected from society in general and felt that you were part of some sort of strange underground movements."
It also led to a realization of the drawing power of musical acts. "The bands were not paid a lot of money in '69 because there was no sort of big-budget standard in those days. Concerts didn't draw those numbers of people.
"One of the things that happened after Woodstock is the music business, which was almost like a mom 'n' pop business, like a frontier business, became an industry." In what Lang calls a final irony, the signature event symbolizing a generation that eschewed commercial culture, helped launch an entire industry.
"People realized the power that these bands had to draw people and generate income and suddenly the music business exploded into the music industry."
Even if the social analysis doesn't interest, the raw power of the music from each era is compelling enough. "We desperately wanted this film," says Paige Orloff, vice president of Original Movies, STARZ! Pictures.
"Encore is trying to bridge the generations by showing great films of past and present, and also focusing on great filmmakers. In this project, we had both."