La Jolla High graduate captures pop culture in documentary


Lydia Stirling just couldn’t do it. She could not enjoy faking enthusiasm for a beverage commercial. Her mom, who gave up acting at a young age, dreamed of seeing her daughter accepting the Best Actress award at the Oscars. But after leaving the casting in tears, Stirling decided that was the end of acting.

Six years later, the La Jolla High alumnus still hopes her mom will get a chance to go to the Academy Awards.

“I would one day want to be at the Academy Awards and be up for best documentary,” Stirling said.

The 24-year-old Canadian-born director prefers being behind the camera. It comes more naturally; her dad is in broadcasting and she grew up in a television station. Even so, Stirling never thought she would be premiering her first documentary,

“Pop Culture,” at the Museum of Contemporary Arts on Friday, April 22.

“Pop Culture” discusses the issues of image, success, love, faith and purpose through the eyes of 15- to 30-year-olds. Stirling was driven to give a voice to her generation because she felt the media singularly defines this group through MTV.

As she was preparing for the real world after graduating from the University of San Diego, Stirling was surrounded by peers asking the tough questions: What’s really important in life? What do I want to do? What do I want to be?

“I wanted to start a conversation of my generation,” she said. “I wanted to give those questions a voice and a face. I wanted to represent that we are out there, we are thinking about those things. We’re not all in Cancun on spring break.”

Armed with a Canon SLX video recorder, a lighting kit, microphone and notepad, Stirling interviewed 10 men and 10 women in southern California. Individuals represented a range of lifestyles, from a 33-year-old pastor to a 23-year-old atheist surfer, a female college graduate to a young mom. Stirling contrasted their opinions with images from the media.

Editing 20 hours of interviews down to a one-hour documentary was a daunting task. It took Stirling a year to complete the project.

“Some days I’m like, ‘This sucks, I hate it,’ ” she said, “and then other moments I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m so talented.’ ”

At the core of the film is the concept that individuals are defining themselves on their own terms. Stirling hopes everyone can identify with her film and trigger meaningful conversation across generations. However, she imagines the high school to 30-year-old age bracket will be able to most easily relate to “Pop Culture.”

Kurt Davidson, who appears in the film and was Stirling’s youth minister at the church group, The Gathering, feels the film will reach out to all ages, but will be a comeuppance for young people.

“People who do show up to the movie,” Davidson said, “will be offended by and will see some parts of themselves through the interviews.”

Davidson remembered trying hard to fit in when he was in high school and sees the same issues with youth today, especially in La Jolla.