Artist & Filmmaker Stefan Hunt – On the wisdom of elders and and the joy of a boogie

Stefan Hunt is utterly inspiring. He’s your typical larrikin happy-go-lucky Aussie, but there’s a lot of depth to his joyous, playful nature, and filmmaking. He’s whip-smart, wise and visionary. Wisdom that only comes once you’ve done dumb stuff like rent an ice cream truck, drive around all 50 of the US states and attempt to surf a potato field in Idaho at the ripe old of age of 18. The infectious optimism and warmth that radiates from Hunt is why we absolutely had to profile him on The Together Project. His illustrious career making world-class films is underpinned by a desire to bring about change – he believes that creativity and social impact don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Not to mention incite an old fashioned boogie and just you feel damn good. His fresh, vibrant vision just what the world needs right now and he generously shares great practical advice for those also wanting to shake the world up, for the better.

Watch his exquisite film They Saw The Sun First here:

They Saw The Sun First behind the scenes
They Saw The Sun First behind the scenes
“My challenge as a director was to create something that was mesmerising. That's all I wanted to do. Something that held people's attention, that made them slow down in this busy world we live in and for them to just soak in the words of wisdom of our elderly. ”
Stefan Hunt

Tell us the message behind They Saw The Sun First

They Saw The Sun First is a short film that I released this year, in 2020. I started it mid 2019. It was sparked by a conversation with a friend of mine, her names Zenith Vertigo, and she’s a death walker and this incredible elder up here in Byron Bay, and I was talking to her one day and she spoke to me about her passion for eldership and how in a lot of particular cultures eldership is a really key part of how they operate and there’s a lot of value placed on it. But a lot of times in the West there isn’t value placed on it. Old people kind of get shipped off to nursing homes and forgotten about and it’s really sad. And beyond that they carry a lot of wisdom and life experience that we don’t tap into. And I feel like in this day and age we’re consumed by content and young people like me sharing advice when really there’s Elders out there with so many wonderful things to share and so I just wanted to go and tap into that. I haven’t had grandparents in my life for over a decade as of them passed away when I was really young so I kind of just made my mission to go out into New York and interview elderly people about life and about regret and about fear and about love and all of these things that we as human beings all experience in some way. And it was like one of the most poignant experiences of my life and then I thought ok well how do I share this with a young audience because we’ve all heard inspiring interviews or incredible quotes. How can I cut through and capture  people’s attention for eight minutes, which is a huge challenge in 2020. And so my wife Vanessa is an incredible dancer and choreographer and we came up with this idea, let’s map these words of wisdom onto the bodies of these young dancers and tell it through dance. And my challenge as a director was to create something that was mesmerising. That’s all I wanted to do. Something that held people’s attention, that made them slow down in this busy world we live in and for them to just soak in the words of wisdom of our elderly. As an artist, I always like challenging myself to do something I haven’t seen before. And so I think I could have easily recorded interviews of elderly and show them speaking, but I feel like I’ve seen that before. So I thought, how can I share their voice and their wisdom in a whole new way. For me the decision around dance came from being influenced by Vanessa and just understanding now that I’m learning about that world, how mesmerising it is to watch dance and to watch the human body moves with so much grace and purpose especially as a non dancer. I’m always just so engaged by it and that was the decision. I want to engage an audience, I want to capture their attention and I felt like dance was a beautiful way to express these words.

“If you keep looking backwards, you may miss what’s in front of us.

Human beings have got an opportunity to participate in the greatest show on Earth,” a quote from interviewee John in his sage, deep voice is what sticks with one the most. His message is clear: the force that unites us all is our common goal to embrace each day as if it could be the last, and embrace our fellow man. As Hunt says “the thing that I want to work towards is reconnection, because it feels like this year has been all about division – so I need to tap into my best art yet, and find ways that force people into a world where they reconnect, and realise that we are all so similar. That we need to be more compassionate with each other”.

 

 

Stefan Hunt

What’s some of the feedback been? What do the interview subjects think?

Immediately I think about a couple. There’s a lady and her voice opens and closes the film and her name is Nancy and we just had the most instant connection. She said some of the most beautiful things in the film and one of the lines she spoke was “the people you love they’re not going to be around forever”. And it’s a really intense thing to grasp and swallow that. And so for that scene I actually wrote to Nancy and said can I actually have you cameo in this scene with your husband Ed, who I’ve heard so much about. And so they came onto set, and there’s this scene where the girl says that line and she’s in a cafe and she falls against the window and her face kind of slides down the cafe window. But in the reflection of the window, and it’s only very subtle, there’s these two elderly people embracing one another. And that’s Nancy and her husband Ed. Anyway when we were on set, Vanessa, my wife, was talking to Nancy and said “have you even heard the song and the music and all the interviews put together?” and Nancy said “no I haven’t heard it”. And so we played it. And when she started hearing her voice and everyone’s interviews it was so powerful that she grabbed Ed they just slow danced for eight minutes and our whole crew stopped. Everyone was rigging up lights and cameras and they just held each other and it was like time stood still. They just held each other so deeply and just sat in that moment. And everyone just stopped what they were doing and just watched it. I feel like that for me was worth everything, that captured what the film was about. It captured how special life is, and how special love is, and how much we should just take a breath and take it in

They Saw The Sun First film still
They Saw The Sun First film still

We love that you believe creativity and social impact should not be mutually exclusive how have you done this through your work?

The first film I made I decided to create positive social change so just found myself mixing with a lot of nonprofits that I believed in and I loved what they were doing and offered my services to them. But then I think I realised that there’s a really generic narrative that gets told when it comes to charitable or philanthropic work and I got really sick and tired of it. Everything’s in black and white and depicts people who are oppressed or struggling and presented these people as victims. I thought, I’ve travelled to these countries and there is so much joy and life and they’re human beings and don’t get portrayed like that and so I guess I want to show it how I see it – I want to capture the joy and and then also just educate an audience – these people are just like you and I, they just haven’t been blessed with the same privileges and that is when you can help fill the gaps. These are people who have dreams and a great sense of humour and I wanted to bring that through in my work. So my work is very colourful and joyous and childlike and it’s resonated with people because they haven’t guilted into been supporting something. They’ve been inspired and motivated to do it from a place of joy.

"It was one of the most poignant experiences of my life - and then I thought, ok how do I share this with a young audience? Let's map these words of wisdom onto the bodies of young dancers and tell it through dance."

Stefan Hunt

What advice could you give to someone who may want to do a project to bring impact or change into the world but it feels too big, or they doubt their talent or vision, all those roadblocks – what advice would you give to somebody in that position? 

It’s funny because I think years ago my advice would have been just go for it! And these days I still believe that, but having done it a few times now, I think practical advice and to be realistic is really important. And so the first one would be make sure that no one else is already out there doing the thing that you’re looking to do. Because I think a lot of the time even if it comes from the most genuine place, I think people really like the idea of what they’re creating, but if that’s already out there, then why not combine forces with the person already doing that and create that together, if it does align. In saying that there’s so many great ideas that haven’t been brought to life and do deserve to be followed through with – Amanda’s The Together Project’s been one of them – so the advice for that is, if you’ve never done a project of this scale, just know that you need to sacrifice everything and that you have to work really really hard. And when you think that you’ve got nothing left, it’s just going to require more of you in that time. And so if that idea is still keeping you up at night and still that thing you’re just so compelled to do, you’ll get it done. But just know, that like any great idea that you’ve seen or any great change that’s come about in the world hasn’t come about easily. And so surround yourself with people who are like minded, who are positive, who believe in it, and work together. The last thing you want is to be in an environment where people are bringing you down. I think one of the biggest impacts my Dad has had on me in my life is when he told me this idea of ‘you’re the average of your environment’. So if you operate and think on a level up here and it’s really optimistic and positive, and you hang out with people who are really pessimistic or tall poppy syndrome in Australia, or whatever equivalent – they bring you down, you’re going to average out. So you’re going to bring them up because you bring out their best side, but they’ll bring you down. And that’s not a place where you can bring out your best. If you’re hanging out with people who have the same mindset and positivity, you’re only going to build each other up. And that’s what we need more of in the world to create the change that we want to see.

“There's elders out there with such wonderful things to share and I just wanted to tap into that. I made it my mission to go out and interview elderly people about life and fear and about love and all of these things that we as human beings experience. ”
Stefan Hunt

What is your hope for the future?

I don’t know if it’s that I’m getting older, I don’t want to say becoming more jaded, because I’m never going to slip into that space, or if it’s just 2020, but I’ve definitely found this year to be the hardest in terms of the state of the world and where it’s at – it’s been really exhausting, and really upsetting. I guess the beacon of hope that I draw from that is a lot of the best art that has ever been created has come from struggle, and our world is struggling in this time, and I think there’s going to be an incredible, incredible wave of art and from the younger generation. You can already see it with something like climate change, where they just say enough is enough, let’s change this, and that really excites me – that optimism and I want to be a part of that, and support and build them up in any way I can. I think for me, the thing that I want to work towards, and 2020 has really instilled this – is reconnection, because it feels like this year has been all about division – on every level, choose your political side, just about anything these days. It’s so divided and so I just feel that I need to tap into my best art yet, and find ways that force people into a space or into a world where they’re forced to reconnect, and realise that we are all so similar. And that we need to be more compassionate with each other. So it’s a big challenge, but it’s an exciting one.

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