Jim Klein, a student of the 1960s, returns to college to take an eye-opening look at the values and aspirations of college students, probing behind the stereotypes to ponder the forces that were changing the country and the campuses in the early 1990s. Set at Kent State, twenty years after four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen during an anti-war demonstration, the film uses that benchmark event to gauge the feelings of students in the 1990s about activism, ambition, success, racism, getting ahead and having a good time.
Letter to the Next Generation had its premiere at Kent State on May 4th, 1990 in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the shootings there. On that same day, it opened at theaters in twelve cities. Over the next two months, the film played theatrically in more than 35 cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit and San Francisco, receiving positive reviews in the New York Times (Canby), New York Post and Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun and San Francisco Chronicle, among others. Letter to the Next Generation was broadcast nationally on PBS in July, 1990.
A first rate work of cinema journalism! Personal and opinionated…rich and dense with detail. The voices it hears are authentic, as is the filmmaker’s.
Comparing the 1960s generation of peace, love, and activism with the 1980s generation of razor-cut Reagan fast-trackers could be an exercise in easy and predictable stereotyping. But in Letter to the Next Generation documentary filmmaker Jim Klein escapes the sometimes nostalgic self-righteousness of his 1960s generation to probe how and why young people today are different.
Letter had a tremendous impact on the students in my History of the 60s seminar. While demystifying the events at Kent State, it also helped the students see themselves as potential historical actors. “History,” they concluded, “didn’t stop in 1970,” and that is a very useful thing to have learned.