Re:Generation director Amir Bar-Lev: "I think real music lovers do their homework"

What happens when contemporary electronic musicians, DJs and producers are teamed with old masters of rock, jazz, soul and country? That's the question posed by the new documentary Re:Generation, which opens for a limited run of screenings around Denver on February 16. The film follows musical collaborations by some unlikely pairings like bass-guru Skrillex and the remaining members of the Doors, DJ Premier with the Berklee Symphony Orchestra, or Pretty Lights with Leann Rimes and Dr. Ralph Stanley, among others. While some of the groups prove more successful than others, the film explores some interesting cross sections in the web of musical possibility.

We recently caught up with the film's director, Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) to discuss the film, getting access to the creative process of an impressive list of musicians, and why remixing is like modern art for the ears.

Westword: What is it in particular that drew you to this project?

Amir Bar-Lev: When I was approached with this idea, I was instantly drawn to it. I think Picasso said that Art is the lie that tells the truth. Similarly, this project is a contrived situation that allows us to see something very natural; something that audiences don't usually get the privilege of witnessing. And that is the way great musicians explore what's come before them, then build upon it, to create something new.

How many of the participating artists were you already familiar with? Did you find any new favorites?

I go way back with DJ Premier; the other DJs, I have to admit, I only had a very superficial knowledge of. Watching all of them work was a privilege, and I think that audiences are going to be very excited by the access we were given.

After The Tillman Story, was it a relief to get back into the realm of creativity, rather than war and bureaucracy?

All of my movies rely heavily on music -- I've had classical, electronica, country, rock and roll, Russian and Italian folk music, toy piano, you name it. Music and film go together like bread and butter. I was very happy to make a movie where I could focus solely on music making. And if the war makers and bureaucrats would grow the fuck up, we could all focus on music making a lot more, right?

Is Re:Generation a film for fans of these artists, or is there something that the average viewer, completely unfamiliar with artists like Skrillex or Mark Ronson, could take away from this?

I can tell you that my sixty-year-old parents are big fans of this film; it's most definitely not an "insider's" project. It's a music-lover's film; it's an opportunity to really get behind the curtain and see great musicians in their creative process. If you don't particularly like music, well, probably the film's not your cup of tea.

Prior to starting on the film, did you have an opinion about remixing/sampling as an artistic expression -- i.e., is it creativity or theft? Did your view change over the course of the film?

I'm in the camp of people who think sampling is a bona fide music form; just as modern art is a bona fide visual medium. That said, I'm also in the camp that feels like great music isn't always immediately accessible. I think real music lovers do their homework, they get beyond the greatest hits collections and train their ears to understand music no matter how old or archaic it might appear to our modern ears. So music appreciation moves forward and backwards in time; it's one of the great things about loving music.

I understand when some people roll their eyes when they hear something's been updated or remixed; a lot of times remixes are simply modern day muzak versions of old songs. You have to bring something new and worthwhile to the table, otherwise if it ain't broke don't fix it. Luckily we were working with some very creative musicians who are dedicated to learning about music's roots and also inspired to reimagine and reanimate music in their own ways.

Re:Generation will be shown at 7 p.m., February 16 at Harkins Theatre, 8300 Northfield Blvd; 8 p.m., February 16 & 23 at AMC Highlands Ranch, 103 W. Centennial Blvd.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patrick Rodgers