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Oscar-winning Moonlight producer shares his journey

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HONG KONG: Fresh from a successful Hollywood awards season, film producer Andrew Hevia led the popular “Sharing by Andrew Hevia, Co-producer of Oscar-winning Best Picture “Moonlight”” session held on 14 March at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The discussion was moderated by Maurice Lee, Partner, Maurice WM Lee Solicitors. The seminar was part of the HKTDC International Film & TV Market (FILMART) (13-16 March), which is organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC).

Andrew Hevia, Co-producer of Oscar-winning Best Picture “Moonlight,” used the seminar platform to share how his journey of independent filmmaking in Miami, United States, led to the Academy Awards stage. Using various trailer examples of indie movies that he loves, and often helped create, Mr Hevia explored the theme of specificity and identity in filmmaking. The up-close dialogue explored how his professional journey of micro-budget community filmmaking and the local networks he created in Miami impacted and led to the creation of the Oscar-winning production Moonlight. Having previously resided in Hong Kong, Hevia shared his special connection to the city and discussed how his approach to filmmaking can apply to Hong Kong creators seeking to tell local stories.

Miami Beginnings

As a proud resident of Miami with Cuban origins, Andrew Hevia has strived to create and share a film telling the “Miami story from a Miami perspective for a Miami audience.” This passion for authenticity and localised storytelling led to the creation of the “Borscht Film Festival.” Featuring film pieces specific to neighbourhoods throughout Miami, not “just the beaches we are all familiar with”, the event encouraged residents to tell stories important themselves and their niche using minimal budgets. Through this passion project, he “learned how to make movies cheaply and quickly” and shared that micro-budget films are basically “inviting your friends to work with you and make something you like.” Through persistence driven by creative hunger, the Borscht Film Festival led to greater community support and the eventual sharing of his projects across multiple film festivals. It was during his times in the Miami film community he initially met eventual screenwriter and director of Moonlight Barry Jenkins.

Creative Solutions

Introducing several key takeaways from his professional journey, Hevia explored the advantages of micro-budget filmmaking. He stated that “it can be better to have no money than some money” because with “some money it is a job that doesn’t pay well but if you have no money it is not job. With no money you have fun.” He further explained that with limited to no funding you have to get creative to achieve your end result and those results are “personal, original and not expensive.” Continuing on, he said “it’s easy to make things look like you spent money; it’s hard to make them good.”

The Power of Specificity

The core theme of Hevia’s presentation was the power and importance of specificity in filmmaking. He highlighted the importance of his experiences “focusing on Miami” because it allowed him and the creators he worked with to “explore the stories we knew that no one else knew” which made them personal and unique. He said that “we wanted to show you where we lived, who we were and how we lived.” In reference to the eventual success of both the Borscht Film Festival and Moonlight, he stated that “a limited audience is actually a specific audience, and that is an asset” compared to the standard universal movie approach which creates a movie that appeals to everyone but “universal is bland” in his opinion. He suggested that if you can make a specific movie accessible by “taking what you know and making other people appreciate it, you have done something good.”

Bringing “Art-house to the Hood”

Hevia detailed how a personal phone call and invitation from Jenkins led to him joining the Moonlight production. He explained that Moonlight was a hard movie to make because it did not fit the traditional ideals of what a successful movie is – “it had no movie stars, there were no white actors, it was an experimental narrative and it had no international appeal.” But from Hevia’s perspective, “the reasons why people don’t want to fund your movie are probably the reasons you need to make it.” Moonlight was successful because it was “about and for a specific audience, it was told in an unexpected way, it paid attention to craft over spectacle and that it was about ideas.” He said that “identity is specific” and Moonlight is an identity film about “someone growing up poor, black and gay.” He explained that “identity is how people see themselves, and if you show people themselves they will reward you with passion” which leads to success because “when people are passionate about your work, your work will spread.”

Stories for Hong Kong

To conclude to the sharing session, Hevia focused on how specificity and identity in filmmaking can apply to Hong Kong. Reflecting on his experience residing in city, he said “one thing about Miami that I recognised when I came to Hong Kong was that Miami is a place nobody lives in; everyone is temporarily there, they are from somewhere else.” This issue was a originally a key inspiration for starting his local film festival to tell Miami stories as a way to express identity and how Miami relates to residents’ identities. He went on to say that

“I think Hong Kong in a similar way has some of those same issues” and that creates an opportunity to “start talking about what it means to be here, to be from here, what is it like live here.” In reference to Hong Kong’s position juxtaposed with the Chinese mainland, he compared the situation to Miami against New York and Los Angeles and encouraged filmmakers to “do Hong Kong” and focus on the specific stories and identities of the city like he did with Miami.

Hevia is currently developing a Hong Kong-based mystery thriller with local commercial director Joshua Wong. “Dark Room” will be an English-language film with a focus on authentic Hong Kong aesthetics inspired by his time living in the city in 2015 as Fulbright scholar.

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