Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?
Film is dopamine. Like sunlight, I’d be hard-pressed to live without it.
What was your first job in the art field?
This is not a job, but rather an indelible memory about the bittersweet nature of art, and illegitimacy of artistic curation. When I was 10 years old, I entered a short story in a school contest. I wrote the hell out of that thing and drew little pictures to accompany it. The jury ruled me ineligible, because they thought my parents helped me. I was devastated.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
These are two very different questions. I want to tell stories when they grab hold of me so tenaciously I can't let go. This is not a work of the head, rather of the heart. As far as themes, I’ve been drawn to different issues, including extreme sports (Volcanic Sprint), climate change (Shattered Sky), military transitions (Jobs for GIs), disability justice (Dani’s Twins), indigenous rights (Patrol), and Chinese cultural influence in Africa (Eat Bitter). I’ve made independent films on all these issues.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?
Again, two very different questions. On new projects, I need to identify an emotional connection in me that impels me to eat, drink, and sleep a new project for years to come, often without any real payment. Method, by contrast, is less intuitive, more practical and stepwise, on a story-by-story basis.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?
I’m influenced by both documentary and narrative artists. I’m drawn to the naturalistic filmmaking of Jean Marc Vallee who “‘captured humanity and revealed the beauty behind it” attempting to expose flaws in human nature. The empathy of Cory Jo Fukuyama. The bravery of Matthew Heineman. The visionary form of Kevin McDonald, Ross McElwee, Barry Jenkins.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
People say this is a golden age for documentary film. Film audiences have it great: At no time in history have more viewers experienced better access to such diverse content on so many platforms. However, the business model is broken for the professionals making the films: 80% of film producers do not make a living from producing films. I see the industry changing when makers monetize direct contact with their audiences. This goes beyond Kevin Kelly’s idea of “1,000 true fans.” It involves web3 tools, but is not determined by them. The future of documentary creation involves filmmakers who do not require huge corporations to forge sustainable livelihoods. Rather, they work directly with audiences during financing, scripting, production, distribution, and impact. I’m working with filmmakers across the country on this. We call our community #film3.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?
Don’t do it for the money.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?
Nothing else ever has.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
People love the shit out of true crime. The pandemic has not changed audiences’ taste, but rather it accelerated the adoption of digital tools that are empowering independent filmmakers to follow their true artistic calling in sustainable ways.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
With Perpetuo Films, the nonprofit documentary film studio I co-founded, I’m involved in a global campaign to train trainers around the world who can equip the next generation of climate storytellers to advocate for climate adaptation and mitigation. This is going to be huge.