The world is different now. On a secluded, rural, Australian road, a hitchhiker picks up a ride. Is everyone who they say they are inside the vehicle?
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Alexander Hagani
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I spent a month backpacking and living out of a suitcase in January of 2017, traveling to countries ranging from Denmark to New Zealand, and it just so happened that the 45th American President, Mr. Donald Trump, was sworn into office at the same time. Being an American, and more so, being a New Yorker, my accent is apparent and in the backseat of an Uber in a foreign country, I stood out like a sore thumb. Every time I got into the car I was consistently labeled and asked if I supported the President of the United States.
After pleading for many five star Uber reviews, I felt that it was best to turn my anxieties of riding in the back of foreign Ubers into a short film. Coincidentally, I had just seen Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and was extremely inspired by his genre choice of anxiety-horror. I have always worked in comedy, and seeing a comedian create a horror film influenced me to create a film well out of my comfort zone. I wanted to make something that felt different. (I’m kidding about the five stars by the way, when I Uber ride I only go five stars for five stars.)
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
It was important for us to leave the audience with a question, not a solution, after the film’s end credits. Not to give anything away, but ‘Refuge Island’ should make you want to open a dialogue about today’s society, rather than feel like our story has given you an answer to some of the questions we pose.
We want you to think about what you know. We want you to question our modern society and the direction in which it's going. If you are in the audience, we want ‘Refuge Island’ to be a film that asks you why you believe in what you believe, and do you think that they are justified in their truths. If you have been confused, upset, or unsatisfied with the progress that world politics have made in the past two years than ‘Refuge Island’ is an important watch.
There have been dramatic rises in public displays of hatred, there have been outpourings of love, and with each bit of progress that we see there seems to always be an indignation that we still have one foot backwards. If you have noticed anything unsettling, or anything pure over the past two years, ‘Refuge Island’ is a film for you.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Universally, we have a consistent ongoing debate about how to accept illegal immigrants and refugees into our country, but what would happen if we were to be put in their shoes? On a more personal level, the film is eight minutes of three people communicating and how all their voices are represented regardless of the global issue at hand.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Sitting at a beautiful ocean-side café off the coast of New Zealand, I originally wrote ‘Refuge Island’ as a short story, and a month later it became a ten-page script. On the production side, Refuge Island took two full days to film on location an hour drive away from gorgeous Sydney, Australia. A few weeks later, in June of 2017, a twelve-minute cut was finished.
Editing is arguably the most grueling aspect of filmmaking though, and being the editor as well as the writer/director, I revisited the film in January of 2018 to recut it all. That’s the eight-and-a-half-minute version that you see today. Who knows, in a year’s time my mind might take me back to cut yet another version.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We are hot off our Director of Photography, Yaozi Lu, nabbing the Award for ‘Best Cinematography’ at the 4th Annual Global Impact Film Festival in Washington D.C., and we could not be more interested in hearing what audiences and professionals think of our film. It has been such an honor to have our film screened and presented at film festivals. Many people from all around the world have connected with our film and are curious as to what had inspired us to create such a story.
‘Refuge Island’ was my first real experience directing a short film, and it has been fantastic to hear all types of criticisms and compliments. We did our best to allude to a few different time periods in world history, and the fact that to our audience these allusions have been tasteful and powerful have made for the most beautiful feedback we can ask for.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
It has surprised us that so many people have such knowledge and passion for the themes and dilemmas that ‘Refuge Island’ draws inspiration from. From audience members sharing their feelings on the Aleppo crisis to people having ideas as to resolutions to these issues has been so impressive.
I also did not expect that our film would resonate with other communities and people all around the world. I wrote ‘Refuge Island’ from an American perspective, only to have it made with an Australian crew, and it has been surprising how much success we have had in connecting our specific story to voices all over the world. Art is a universal language, and we just want to continue speaking to people through that medium.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We could not be more honored to have our film featured on wearemovingstories. This collective, and what you stand for, is a beautiful platform for artists to talk about what they believe in, and the art that they have made. We are looking to increase ‘Refuge Island’s’ exposure to a broader audience, and if it were not for platforms like wearemovingstories, we would not have a stable foundation to achieve that. The point of our film is to get people to converse with one another, so we cannot thank you enough for giving us a place to do so.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
To amplify the film’s message, we would love to see Film Festival Directors, Distributors, and more journalists pick up on our message and give our film a platform to present. Touring ‘Refuge Island’ around film festivals has been an incredible experience, not only have we learned more from other filmmakers and audience members, but we could also touch and influence others all around the world. Film Festivals has given us that exposure, and we would be lucky and humbled to continue to influence through their medium.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The original idea for ‘Refuge Island’ was to help begin to flip people’s belief about where we are going as a society. The film is meant to not only begin a conversation, but to raise awareness about how we can make progress moving forward.
In a perfect world, I would love for the loneliness behind ‘Refuge Island’s’ universe to give a much-needed jolt to people’s outlook on the future. The universe in our film is not too unrealistic years down the line, and if we continue to keep up our selfish and aggressive ways, how can we teach our children the fundamental values of love, kindness, and respect. For world leaders to reject a human being’s entry into a country based on the color of their skin or their religious values is not leading by example for generations younger than us.
I would love for ‘Refuge Island’ to enact as a wakeup call for the people that have been sleeping through these past two years. We have been making positive social change day by day but there are still major disagreements in regards to trade laws, immigration policies, and climate change agreements that we have been tip toeing around. As people, we need to begin to compromise with each other with a sense of urgency before there is no turning back, and if ‘Refuge Island’ can begin to create that impact than I can continue creating as a happy man.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
At ‘Refuge Island’s’ core, there will be different conversation starters for everyone. To give you a head start though, here are a few to think about:
When and how will we begin to work as a unified collective? When will we recognize that we - all of us, no matter the country, race, or gender, are just as vulnerable as the next?
Why should we listen to those who think differently than us? Progress, if there is to be any, will accompany cooperation. Therefore, we do not seek to provide the right answer, but we hope that you begin to ask the right questions.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Currently, I have just moved to London to pursue my MFA in Filmmaking at the London Film School. I could not be more excited to create in a city that is new to me with a different world view. When I moved to Sydney over a year ago, my creativity flourished outside of my comfort zone therefore, I am excited to hopefully find that spike in creation again in a new environment.
Interview: September 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
The world is different now. On a secluded, rural, Australian road, a Hitchhiker picks up a ride. Is everyone who they say they are inside the vehicle?
Length: 8 minutes, 20 seconds
Director, Producer, Writer: Alexander Hagani
About the writer, director and producer:
ALEXANDER HAGANI is currently studying to receive his MFA in Filmmaking at The London Film School. He has written and directed several episodes of television - including five full-length episodes of his own series Boys to Men - and his short film, Refuge Island, has toured the festival circuit in Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and other cities around the world.
Key cast: Russell Cecil (The Hitchhiker), Sophie Cheeseman (The Woman), and Chris Constable (The Man)
Looking for: Distributors, Film Festival Directors, and Journalists
Facebook: Refuge Island film
Made in association with: The University of Technology Sydney
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? If you follow this link, you can watch it right here: www.vimeo.com/umassboystomen/refugeislandfilm