We live in a time when technology has become smaller and smaller, cheaper and more accessible, ubiquitous. Many people use the tiny supercomputers in their pockets to merely consume information or entertainment and don’t bother creating much with it at all. Others do, however.
Jason van Genderen sees the tiny tech of smartphone cameras as a huge opportunity. On a video from Australia’s ABC TV’s Big Ideas that features him, the introduction describes him perfectly:
There has to be a person with an idea and a unique position that is holding [the technology]
You can watch the whole thing here:
Jason has a big heart that follows those big ideas and it was a pleasure to correspond with him about his work and background.
TH: Doing some looking around and watching the videos on the Treehouse site, you are quite the accomplished filmographer. I saw that you did some art and even worked for Hallmark, but how did you get started in film and video? What drew you to that?
Jason: Believe it or not, I turned to cartooning through school as I had a bad back, wore a Boston back brace for years and needed a creative pursuit to keep me occupied. All that led to me working as a graphic designer in an advertising agency, eventually being promoted to Art Director in my 2nd year... I stayed for 13 years! As part of my role, I got introduced to the creative process of making television commercials - which I gravitated towards and I eventually bought my own video camera to start experimenting with storytelling. As soon as I'd made my very first short film (and played it to an audience) I was instantly hooked. To be able to convey story that way is so pure and exciting, creatively it's like a drug!
TH: What makes a compelling story for you and what do you want to convey when you tell that story?[blockquote]I do love the challenge of a new, unpredictable story to discover... it's s little bit like fossicking for flecks of gold.[/blockquote]
Jason: For me, a compelling story is all about finding something that people have no (or little) knowledge of, then casting a light on it with a unique voice, or an unusual perspective. When I tell a story I want it to be something memorable for my audience, hopefully something that stays with them in some way or helps shape a deeper understanding of people around them. Most of my films have been short documentaries, quite often about people or subjects immediately around me. Having said that I do love the challenge of a new, unpredictable story to discover... it's s little bit like fossicking for flecks of gold.
TH: For Red Earth Hip Hop, how had you heard about the efforts to reach out to younger kids through music and what made you want to tell that story?
Jason: I heard an interview on our national youth radio network (Triple J) and I found myself really intrigued about it. Australia's indigenous people have had to fight so hard to keep their identity - and their voice - alive since European occupation of this great land. This was just a beautiful, feel-good story that celebrated a creative collaboration that dissolved the colour of people's skins... and bridged 50,000 years of evolution in vocal storytelling.
TH: I understand that the Aborigines can be pretty guarded about cultural stories and history. Was that a challenge for the short?
Jason: That's true I guess but for good reason. Their culture has been raped and pillaged for over 220 years. Their generations have endured significant injustices - as many indigenous cultures around the world have - so it's no wonder they keep their true culture quite close to their chest. I didn't want 'Red Earth Hip Hop' to cover old ground, rather I wanted it to look at a fresh perspective on today's Indigenous youth in Australia's remote communities. We only had three days to film up there, so it was important for me to work with collaborators who had an insight into the Lockhart River community and also introduce me into their circle of trust. Melbourne based hip hop producer 'Morganics' and Sydney DJ 'MK-1' were instrumental in gaining that familiarity within the community, in fact this story would have been impossible to tell without them.
TH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Jason: The heavily condensed timeframe was probably my biggest challenge. This was a big story with many layers and voices to contribute... it wasn't easy to pack all that into such a short film duration. Every edit felt like I was leaving out another integral ingredient.
In the end, however, short films are all about distilling your idea, your story, into a deeply focused and well-packaged slice of condensed time. So in that light, the pressured timeframe for production was probably great... it forced me to think very clearly about story and just capture what I needed, and that's a valuable discipline to practice as a short filmmaker.
TH: Is it easy to get folks to talk about their experiences? A big camera can be intimidating... does the size of smaller cameras and cell phones make a difference to how people respond?
Jason: Definitely. Cell phones dissolve many borders that conventional cameras struggle with. Everyone's so used to seeing people film or snap photos on their phones, it's almost an automatic acceptance these days. There's clearly room for both ends of the spectrum, and unique pro's and cons for each - however there's no denying the immediacy and portability of cell phone filmmaking. It carves new opportunities for filmmakers - and new possibilities for how you capture your subjects - very exciting to see where such compact creative technology will take us in the years to come.
TH: Is there a story you’re just itching to tell, a film you want to make one day?
Jason: Absolutely. My (now) wife Megan embarked on a journey to volunteer in an NGO in Ethiopia in 2010. For 9 months we recorded daily video journals to each other, amassing to over 320 hours of footage... all filmed on Flip pocket cams. I'm gradually editing this footage down, my goal is to make it my first feature-length documentary for online release. It's going to be called Me&Megan. People can follow Me&Megan on Facebook if they want to preview webisodes of the story, or stay in touch for the future release!
TH: Any exciting projects coming up you’d like to let us know about?
Jason: Watch this space - every week something new pops up that inspires me. You've just got to never stop looking - that's the secret.