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Director sells an era's innocence

OSCAR-WINNING director Ang Lee conjures the optimism of late 1960s America in a touching film based on the true story of Elliot Tiber, who was instrumental in organizing the legendary Woodstock concert.

In "Taking Woodstock," news footage and the presence in the cast of troubled Vietnam war veteran Billy, played by Emile Hirsch, are reminders of the violent backdrop to the event.

But they barely intrude upon what is a feel-good movie in which Lee aimed to capture what he called "the last moment of innocence," and a contrast to his most recent films "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lust, Caution," both tragedies.

"I was yearning to do a comedy/drama again without cynicism," Lee said yesterday at the Cannes film festival, where "Taking Woodstock" is in the main competition.

"For me 1969 is a glorified idea, a romantic image of the late 1960s, the last piece of innocence we had, at least in my mind," the 54-year-old director said.

"To me it's the innocence of a young generation departing from the old establishment and trying to find a more refreshing way, more fair way to live with everybody else.

"You have to give those half a million kids the credit of actually having three days of peace and music, nothing violent happened.

"I don't know if it could happen today."

An estimated 500,000 fans turned up in August 1969 to hear the likes of Janis Joplin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix perform on a dairy farm belonging to Tiber's neighbour Max Yasgur.

"Taking Woodstock," which is based on Tiber's memoirs, will be released in cinemas on the 40th anniversary weekend of the legendary concert.

Rather than recreating the concert itself, it follows Tiber, portrayed by comedian Demetri Martin, his family and friends from the town of Bethel as they prepare to host an event that turned out to be one of the biggest and most important in rock history.

The event was captured in Michael Wadleigh's three-hour 1970 documentary, which picked up an Oscar.

Lee acknowledged the influence of the documentary on "Taking Woodstock," and writer James Schamus said he hoped the movie would encourage people to go and watch the earlier work.


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