We got a chance to sit down with the director, Chris Newman:
Q: How did you get your start into filmmaking? When did you realize that that was your calling (if that’s the case of course)?
A: I got into filmmaking in High School, where I was lucky enough to have a video production course. My first film was called ‘Bum on the Run’ and it featured all of my friends. It was about a bum on the run from the law after a game of pool gone bad and was shot in sepia tone (so artsy!) on my parents Hi8 camcorder. That course was it all it took and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Q: What has been your personal favorite project to have worked on? Short or long, new or old… good or bad?
A: My favorite personal project I’ve worked on is probably my first ‘real’ film. It’s called Finding D-QU and it’s a 30-minute documentary about California’s only American Indian tribal college, D-Q University, near where I grew up in Davis. The school was forced to shut down and the students living there at the time decided to occupy it to try to reopen it themselves. I made this in the Social Documentation graduate program at UC Santa Cruz. I learned so much from that experience and it set me on the path to where I am today. The film has a lot of technical flaws and it’s quite dated, looking back (not even in HD!), but every once and I while I watch it and I’m still super proud of it.
Q: What was the most important lesson that you had to learn that had a positive effect on your filmmaking? How did that lesson happen?
A: After grad school and making my first short where I did everything (produced, directed, edited, shot, etc.), I thought having full control was the way to go. I didn’t understand the value of collaboration and working with people that are better than you at their particular craft. I had some failed projects because I tried to do too much and didn’t reach out to folks for their expertise. When I let go of that control, a whole new world opened up and I became a much better filmmaker.
Q: What’s Avocados & Coconuts all about? Apart from the incredible standard of work, what unites the films that you all create? Is there a common theme, a shared value?
A: Avocados and Coconuts is a production company here in San Francisco that I direct for. Dalia Burde has created a really unique creative company and I’m really proud to work there. I think for me, we all share the value of teamwork and collaboration that goes as deep as considering each other family. That kind of working relationship goes a long way in making great work and I think we try and extend that out to the teams and individuals we work with outside of Avocados. Beyond that, we’re all passionate people that love compelling stories and love the process of filmmaking. We’re also not afraid to have fun and work hard at the same time.
Q: Your filmmaking process; how does it begin? How do you go about finding stories, or finding inspiration? How do you know when a story is worth being told, or when you know you’ve found something special?
A: My process has many sparks. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s a single image I see, or an article I read. These sparks light up a sequence of images and sound in my mind and I start to see a scene or part of the film in my mind. When that happens it’s just this gut feeling that says “GO FOR IT”. For example, for my film ‘A Letter to Congress’, the spark was an audio clip of Wallace Stegner reading his Wilderness Letter that I happened to find on YouTube quite randomly. The moment that I heard the tone and texture of that clip, I knew I had to make a film with it.
Q: We’re glad you brought up ‘A Letter to Congress’. The film was hugely inspiring to all of us here, but many of us don’t know how we can make a difference. It seems that many of the decisions regarding our national parks are made in detached DC offices, by jaded and corrupt lobbyists and politicians. Is it as simple as visiting the parks like never before? Do we just have to rock the vote in 2018?
A: I’m so glad y’all were inspired by the film! It can be overwhelming and depressing to see all of the actions that this administration has been taking towards our national parks. They’ve been actively threatening so many of our public lands and wild places in truly unprecedented ways, but we can’t give up. These spaces are so important to who we are as Americans and as human beings. There are many ways to make a difference, but one that is near to my heart at the moment is saving Bears Ears National Monument, a stunning and incredible swath of public land that has been scaled back immensely by the Trump administration. There are five tribes native to the area that are fighting back and you can take action to support them here.
Q: Onto Inboard; we know that cities are ever-expanding, and that traffic and transportation will continue to be huge issues in the future. While improved mass transit is certainly a common solution (better buses, trams, subways, etc), do you see any benefit to more individual transit methods like walking, skating, or biking?
A: I definitely see a huge benefit to individual transit. Getting cars off the road is always a plus, for both traffic and environmental reasons. Rethinking our cities to revolve around this kind of transit is long overdue.
Q: How did you approach this current short film? It blends two cities and many different types...what was the reasoning there?
A: My approach to this film was to show how Inboard fits into the modern fabric of transportation. With that in mind, I thought it was important to show the diverse ways in which people move from one place to the next across varied environments.
Q: We feel like riding an e-board, whether around town or through nature, gives the rider a deeper connection to their surroundings, as compared to being behind a windshield or a bus window. Maybe it’s just the wind in our hair, but do you see value in “open air” personal transportation and a potentially deepened personal connection to one’s environment?
A: I’m a surfer and a cyclist so I see so much value in ‘open air’ personal transport. There’s something so meditative and unique about being street level; you take in more of the world than you would inside a contained environment, like a car or train.
Q: In a similar vein, we like to talk a lot about flow. What does flow mean to you, whether in your work or in your hobbies? How does it feel for you and how do you get there?
A: I think I’m always trying to achieve flow in all that I do. For me, flow is the optimal state where you are performing at your best and everything is clicking; you don’t even have to think. It’s definitely fleeting, but that’s part of why it’s so addictive to pursue. My favorite way to get there is through exercise and meditation practice, but there are so many ways to achieve it.
Q: And on the topic of flow; did you get a sense of unique “flows” amongst the riders you filmed? Do you think the M1 allows for a more creative, a more expressive form of getting from A to B?
A: The riders we filmed are incredibly talented. They blew me away with all the creative ways they chose to ride, none exactly like any of the others. Additionally, I appreciated the unique ‘flows’ in their attitude towards life as well. I think the M1 allows you to be as creative and expressive as you want; the sky’s the limit! The riders we filmed are a testament to that.