Maureen Judge is an award winning documentary filmmaker. She’s directed and produced numerous documentaries, televisions series, and short documentaries. Her most recent film, My Millennial Life follows the daily lives of several twenty-somethings as they struggle to find meaningful work, deal with debts, money, and relationships. It’s a fascinating portrait of a generation trying to find their place in the world amid an erratic economy, and a dearth of good jobs. We recently had the opportunity to interview Maureen about the documentary. She opened up about making the film, and what she sees as “a huge gap between the dream our generation promised millennials and the reality they experience.”
The Underemployed Life: Why did you want to film a documentary focusing on millennials? Did you have any preconceptions of millennials as a group before you started the film?
Maureen Judge: I decided to make My Millennial Life when I became aware of the high percentage of unemployed and underemployed among college and university graduates. I wanted to explore how the shortage of jobs and the lack of a foreseeable future affects becoming an adult in 21st century North American society.
TUL: How did you choose the people who are in the documentary? Were you looking for millennials with specific backgrounds or degrees?
MJ: I wanted to focus on college and university grads. As boomers, we raised our children with the expectation that education would provide the ticket to a middle class future. We succeeded in educating — since 1981 there has been an almost 60% increase of 25-29 year olds with post-secondary degrees — but we haven’t provided the jobs. There’s a huge gap between the dream our generation promised millennials and the reality they experience.
Emily, one of the subjects in the film sums it up: “In my mind growing up, it was like, after public school you go to high school, after high school you go to university, you get your degree and then you’re somebody. And I thought that that entitled me to some type of career but really that’s just simply not the case.”
Emily was the first subject I approached to be in the film. She was renting an apartment in my basement, and I watched her go from a triumphant grad to a depressed, lonely, and jobless individual. Because I had seen her highs and lows, and believed she stood a good chance of getting back on her feet, I felt her story would have a dramatic arch, and be very relatable to millennial audiences.
Once Emily agreed to be in the documentary, the other subjects fell into place. Hope, at 26, is desperate to move out of her childhood home; Meron has incredible optimism in spite of her job cleaning hotel rooms; James, a young entrepreneur with a successful start-up, is still financially dependent on his parents; and Tim has dreams of being a musician, and wiles away his days in a low wage, dead-end job.
In the interactive documentary, we meet Kristy who has two degrees, Aboriginal Studies and Education, and yet she has to move home because she can’t find a full- time teaching job. And there’s Mark, who, seeing few job prospects, is content to live a bohemian existence and works as a waiter.
TUL: I was surprised at how open the subjects were. Did they slowly warm up in front of the cameras or were they unguarded from the start?
MJ: I believe mutual respect and trust are the most important ingredients for breaking down existing barriers between director and subject. When I’m filming, I try to reserve judgment about my subjects and let them express themselves freely. When we are shooting, we are a small intimate crew, and the camera becomes an extension of the relationship.
“When I began the project, I noticed that everywhere I turned people were dumping on millennials, blaming them for having expectations of work and for not working.”
My Millennial Life had to be a project that was important for both the subjects and me, since we were planning to film over the span of a year. Each subject had a strong reason for participating: James felt his story of dropping out of school to create a start-up was important to share; Emily wanted something to do. Initially, she wasn’t up to much and filming provided excitement; Meron, ever optimistic, believed the experience would lead to something better; and Kristy from the i-Doc wanted to share her aboriginal roots and passion for teaching.
TUL: Since you’re of an older generation, did you find yourself wanting to offer advice to some of the subjects?
MJ: I tried not to offer advice to the subjects. I didn’t want the role of a parent or mentor. As the director, I wanted the subjects to express themselves and share their experiences through the process of observational filmmaking.
While we were editing, we held a few test screenings with millennial audiences to make sure we were truthfully representing the subjects in the film. The primary audience for the film is recent graduates, followed by employers, parents and family.
TUL: Why is the economy so rough for millennial Canadians right now?
MJ: The economy is rough for millennials throughout North America. Since the 2008 recession, the North American economy has never caught up to what it was, and coupled with the changing infrastructure of work and employment into a ‘gig’ economy, employers are no longer looking for long term employees, who they used to invest in and train. That initiative has fallen to the colleges and internships, with many internships just existing to supply free or underpaid transient labor.
Although it’s difficult for millennials to build a future, we see glimmers of hope throughout My Millennial Life. The subjects don’t give up and, despite emotional lows, optimism and passion win out, as the subjects adapt, create and continue to strive for future happiness.
TUL: What has the feedback been from audiences?
MJ: I am overwhelmed with the positive response from audiences, users and critics for the film (Available only in Canada for now) and the interactive web documentary (available internationally).
Twenty-something audiences seem to find My Millennial Life very relatable and funny. Whether it’s Hope describing sex on her childhood canopy bed, or Mark listening to potential employers impress upon him that ‘you are your job’, the natural humor of the subjects, humanize and make bearable an often demoralizing situation.
TUL: Do you think millennials are unfairly maligned?
MJ: When I began the project, I noticed that everywhere I turned people were dumping on millennials, blaming them for having expectations of work and for not working. I’m the parent of two Twenty-somethings, and I was shocked. If there aren’t jobs, whose fault is that? Certainly not theirs. When I graduated, I had great expectations — I believe dreams are the essence of youth (no matter how old you are) and should be celebrated.
TUL: A lot of the subjects seemed dispirited yet hopeful. How do you think the future looks for them?
MJ: Although it’s difficult for young grads to build a future, glimmers of hope abound in My Millennial Life. Meron begins the film working at the hotel and ends it there, but emotionally grows throughout; Hope falls in love and finally leaves the nest; Tim loses his day job because he’s the highest paid hourly worker, but now has time for music; and Emily goes back to school to get the job experience she couldn’t find in the work world. None of the subjects in My Millennial Life give up. We watch as they adapt, create and continue to strive toward attaining future happiness.