The Oscar-winning film, Moonlight is probably one of the best gay films after Brokeback Mountain. It is so tender, subtle and beautifully shot. Joe Lam from Dim Sum had a chance to talk face-to-face with Andrew Hevia.
Dim Sum: Tell us about your background and how did you get involved with this film?
Andrew: I’m from Miami and I knew the playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, the original play the film is based on. It’s inspired by Tarell’s own life although the film does not mirror it. A lot of the first two acts are very close to his real experience. Tarell is someone who I have known and respected for probably 15 years. He knew I was interested in making films in Miami and this is a Miami story so he thought I might have some suggestion of what to do with it. I’d also known Barry Jenkins, who ended up writing and directing the film. I was able to connect the two of them. Because Barry had grown up in the same neighborhood as Tarell and they had a lot of background similarities but had never met and personally, even before Moonlight, I was convinced that they were both two of the most incredible storytellers currently alive. The fact that they happen to be from a neighborhood, together both from the city of Miami, the fact that I knew them both was very fortunate.
Dim Sum: What was your vision of this film? Did you think the film would go on to win the Oscar?
Andrew: The truth is I trusted in the storytellers. I think partly, one of the jobs of a producer is to get the right people in the room and then let them do their best work. Barry and Tarell, I think the Oscar has validated some of that already, so it sounds like genius, but the truth is that I had faith in them. Tarrell’s work, when it hits you, it hits you with such an obvious and profound power that you know you are reading something special from the very beginning. And then Barry as a filmmaker, if you have seen Medicine for Melancholy, his first film, or even his student work, the work that I was familiar with before he made his feature, you can tell that he’s coming at all of his stories sideways. He always has a new way in that brings out material that other filmmakers don’t necessarily have. So you take one of the most powerful storytellers and you have a filmmaker like Barry and you put them together, it’s going to be something special.
Dim Sum: How do you feel about the film being influenced by Asian film directors?
Andrew: I’m delighted that Barry’s influences include filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai. I think one of Barry’s great strengths and why the film is doing so well internationally is that he is using and international world cinema language, so the film isn’t rooted in an American style of storytelling. I think he is able to take Asian influences and use that to tell a very specific story about an African-American community in a very specific neighborhood of Liberty City. I think that is his greatest strength, that he makes the film universal by using a language that was developed here.
Dim Sum: This is not only for a queer audience, but also for everyone.
Andrew: Here, I would say the great strength is that Terrell wrote a personal story about his life as a queer man growing up and Barry, as a straight man, was able to, instead of being a story simply of a gay man and his life and influences in his life, it became a story about what it means to be a man in the black community. And it became much more about masculinity and how a person grows up and what fortunes shapes them. And this is sort of what I mean when I say Barry comes as it sideways. If you took it literally and said this is a movie about a guy growing into his sexuality, which is a specific movie. Truthfully, we’ve seen that movie. What Barry did is use that story to ask other questions that related to him personally so that it is as personal to Barry and straight men as it is to Terrell and gay men.
Dim Sum: I know you organize a film festival in the USA and I would like to hear more about that festival.
Andrew: I co-founded a festival in Miami called Borscht. It’s currently run by partners and friends of mine, I’m no longer running it. The festival is a celebration of community; it’s a film festival run by filmmakers. So the filmmakers produce the work and then screen the work. We then invite filmmakers we love and admire to come and produce works with us. So we’re not soliciting material, we’re making it and then celebrating the work. It’s producing movies that you watch on purpose.
Dim Sum: Do you watch many queer films?
Andrew: My filmmaking personal taste is fairly eclectic. I thought Andrew Haigh with Weekend was an exceptional movie. What’s so interesting about Weekend is that it takes a format filmmakers have been using forever. Before Sunset, is a white, heterosexual couple exploring a city. You have a version of that in New York called Quiet City by Aaron Katz. It’s another white, heterosexual couple exploring Brooklyn. Then you have Barry Jenkins, doing Medicine for Melancholy, which is two African Americans, a heterosexual couple in San Francisco, new city. And then Andrew did his version where they are white but homosexual in Manchester. There is even one set here in Hong Kong called It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, Emily Ting’s movie. You have different ethnicities, different cities and you have that same model and I think that is really interesting that every filmmaker can tweak it and once you successfully tweak it, hit on a new nerve but in a familiar format.
Dim Sum: We read in an interview that you lived in Hong Kong for ten months last year.
Andrew: We wrapped production on Moonlight and two weeks later, I moved to Hong Kong. I was here on a Fulbright Research Grant. I lived in Sai Ying Pun for ten months. I finished my grant, got on an airplane October 1, flew to New York, put on a suit and went to the New York premiere of Moonlight.
Dim Sum: Did Hong Kong inspire your filmmaking?
Andrew: Absolutely. I was here doing a documentary, which I think my great privilege is that as a Western expat who doesn’t speak Cantonese coming to Hong Kong, there is a very specific world I can stay in. It’s very safe and easy for me to meet other expats and go to only English speaking places and only see that version of Hong Kong. Because of my documentary, I was able to explore parts of Hong Kong, people would invite me to places where I was the only one who didn’t speak the language or I would go into rooms and I was literally the only person who spoke English. As a documentarian, your job is to absorb, to see and explore Hong Kong more than most of my expat friends, in a way, I feel very privileged to have done it.
Dim Sum: Which part of Hong Kong is the most interesting area for you?
I was here doing a documentary about art. The places where I think the most exciting art was happening is mostly Sham Shui Po, where Lee Kit and Chantel Wong have set up things that can happen, or at 100 Square Foot Park, I think those community art spaces are doing really interesting explorations of Hong Kong today and they are doing it for an audience that will be very much affected by that work. As where Parasite here in Quarry Bay is an excellent art space and they are doing work on an international level and having that dialogue on an international level, which is an excellent way for that to be. But their job is to make that work accessible outside Hong Kong. And things that can happen in 100 Square Foot Park don’t have that. They can make work that is accessible for their audience only.
Dim Sum: So can you talk about when you release your documentary?
Andrew: We are actually still editing. I hope it will be out by this time next year, but I’m hoping for Fall.
Dim Sum: And also, you are making another film?
Andrew: Hong Kong is really inspiring and I met up with a director whose work I am really excited by, Joshua Wong (not the leader of the Umbrella Protest). He is a commercial director here, it’s his first feature and it’s set in Hong Kong that we just announced, but we are still putting together.
I read that you converted from vegetarianism after eating Dim Sum.
Andrew: Yeah, so I was raised vegetarian for 31 years and then I moved to Hong Kong.
Dim Sum: So what’s your favorite Dim Sum Restaurant?
Andrew: The one that is easiest for me is Maxim’s Palace in the Macau Ferry Terminal because it was close to where I lived and it was English accessible. I went to a few others where I could only go with friends that could order for me.
Interview and photo by Joe Lam, transcript by Russell Boaz