"Hip Hop Hooray": Reel Film Reviews interviews Bryn Evans
By Sayward Spooner
Though Hip Hop-eration is his first released movie, Bryn Evans has been working as a storyteller for more than 15 years. Evans started his career as a photojournalist and spent years covering some of the most volatile stories on the planet, with his decision to pick up a different kind of camera paving the way for a burgeoning career as a filmmaker. Hip Hop-eration marks Owens' first foray into the world of feature-length documentaries, and the movie has already racked up a laundry-list of awards and accolades at various worldwide film festivals. It's currently making the rounds at art-house theaters throughout North America.
REEL FILM REVIEWS: Why Hip Hop-eration? Where did the idea come from and what motivated you to make the documentary?
BRYN EVANS: The initial connection to the project for me was through the producers, Alex Lee and Paula Jones. They had invited me to spend time with the group on the island and see if there was a story to develop. Once I started to embark upon this process I soon discovered some things about my own grandmother who passed away 7 years ago. I found a number of old tape recordings of interviews she had taken part in on our National Radio about ageing, and I discovered that on her 80th birthday did a parachute jump. It mad me feel very proud of her!
The stories of the people in Hip Hop-eration are very humbling and inspiring. Has the experience making the documentary and working with the dancers in the film inspired or affected you/your outlook on life at all? If so, how?
The greatest satisfaction has without question been the ability of the film and ultimately the story of this incredible collective of individuals to reach out to a global audience. Travelling with the film and doing a large number of Q&A’s around the world I have been constantly taken aback by the questions from 7 - 90 year old audience members. The members of this group never set out to tell the world that you can do anything when you get older, they set out to do something they have loved doing since they were young children - dance, and in doing so, they have shown all of us that we all have the basic human right to age as we want to, and not be told by society, family members or others what is deemed appropriate for our age!
Your first feature documentary film in 2008, From Street to Sky, also centers around Hip Hop. Is that a coincidence or is Hip Hop music and culture a passion of yours?
I’m interested in stories that explore memories and the the connection of history to our future. Music is a natural provocation of an emotional connection to a place and time so I like connecting music strongly in the topics I explore. Its purely coincidental that in both cases its Hip Hop.
I was so in awe of all of the dancers by the end of the film that I was sad to say goodbye. I wanted to follow Kara ‘Bang Bang’ Nelson on her back-packing trip across Asia, keep tabs on Maynie or see what dance moves Billie came up with next. Are you still in touch with any of the women from the film?
Yes, I’m still in touch with the group and they have gone on to become mini-global super stars! I really connected to all the main characters in the story. When I first met Terri, she reminded me of my own grandmother so much, a strong and focused woman that believed in her own self and ideals. Kara I loved because she just had that attitude of - I don’t want to be a follower, I want to be followed! And Manie, because here was a woman that had endured so much hardship in her life but had the strength to pick herself up and not only bring up a family but had followed her dream of helping to change the world with attitudes around nuclear disarmament, which she did. But I also completely related to Winnie as well who hadn’t had such a remarkable life but was able to overcome her own fears and do something that she will remember for the rest of her life. Many of these woman have already helped change the world around us, and quite un-expectantly they have done this again.
Documentaries in particular seem like they must be such a labour of love. Is it hard to move on once the project is over?
No! after a three year production period on Hip Hop-eration I was very pleased to move on!
According to your bio, you had a long career as a photojournalist reporting in conflict zones around the world before moving back to New Zealand and making documentaries. What’s it like making that transition? Has making documentaries always been a goal, or did it just work out this way?
Making the move to documentary from photography was particularly difficult for me. The fact that you are going from a very intimate way of working with a subject or character as a photographer to having a camera person, sound person and be answerable to a producer in most cases was especially difficult. I have always enjoyed stories of a particular intimate nature and I don’t think I have yet been able to define a way to work that fully captures this for me yet, hopefully in the next film?
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works that you can discuss?
The next film is set in a small impoverished village in China that explores the relationship that this village has to a foreigner called Kathleen Hall, who saved the village from destruction 75yrs ago during the sino-japanese war. The village is no different to thousands of small villages around the world and China trying to define a uniqueness, in the hope that it will save the village from disappearing again, but for very different reasons. The primary protagonists are the village leader who is trying to establish tourism to the area, and an 11yr-old girl who as the future of the village is trying to define her relationship the history of the area that has very little interest to her. Interestingly the story has a strong Canadian connection as Kathleen Hall worked closely to Dr Norman Bethune.