“There’s no way I would have won the grant if I had proposed the movie that I have,” filmmaker Andrew Hevia says by phone while discussing his new documentary, Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window. He’s hanging out on a balcony during a break from some Los Angeles event that makes for a noisy background. The Miami-educated filmmaker is working for Pablo Larraín as vice president of TV and film at the Chilean filmmaker’s U.S. office. Hevia will be in Miami this month for special screenings of his Fulbright-sponsored documentary. In November, he'll attend the 11th iteration of the Borscht Film Festival, the homegrown film fest he cofounded while still in high school.
It’s been a long journey for the filmmaker. Before he won an Oscar for producing Moonlight, Hevia, a graduate of New World School of Arts in Miami, took on a project funded by a Fulbright Student Research grant to make a documentary about art in Hong Kong. He proposed it as a kind of sequel to an earlier documentary he'd directed for WLRN, Rising Tide , which focused on Miami’s flourishing art scene in the shadow of Art Basel Miami Beach. This time, he would examine Basel’s nascent Hong Kong fair and how it related to that major metropolitan city’s artists. Hevia did not anticipate how out-of-his-element he would be.
The problems began early. As Moonlight’s production was pushed forward, so was Hevia’s move to Hong Kong to prepare for the art fair’s opening in mid-March 2016. He was hoping for time to immerse himself in the art scene and make connections with studios, artists, and collectors who could offer insight into the changing dynamics Basel might bring to the city’s art scene, much like what he'd observed in 2002 when the art fair arrived in Miami Beach. “I was supposed to get to Hong Kong in September, and then I would have had something like five months to do my research, but... I got to Hong Kong in December and didn’t have time to do the research, so then I don’t know who are my experts. In Miami, I had over 20 years of lived experience.”
Hevia captures this revelation in the documentary humorously, when he shows up to a mostly text-based exhibition with hardly any cultural context, and everyone is speaking Cantonese. A robotic voiceover, used throughout the documentary to narrate events, spells out his thoughts plainly during a montage of Chinese people speaking to one another and examining the art: “You are completely unprepared. You are fucked.”
Throughout the film, art seems to take a backseat to Hevia’s experience of trying to cobble together the documentary. He struggles with a broken heart over a woman he left in New York; he has a hard time finding an affordable livable space in the pricey, crowded city; and street signs can’t even seem to lead him to a film screening inside a mall.
“I overestimated how easy it would be to understand the circumstance in Hong Kong,” Hevia admits, “so I definitely ran into a wall very quickly. It was like, I am not prepared for this, and I’m not in a position to take an authoritative stance. Where, in Miami, I can tell that story because I know that story, and if I don’t, I know who to ask. I know Dennis Scholl [who executive-produced Leave the Bus] is an incredible expert who can open it up for me. I didn’t know who that person was in Hong Kong ‘cause I literally just landed.”
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But this isn't just a story about a fish out of water. Hevia turns his perspective and experience into a less direct message about art, which in turn pays profound respect to the subjective experience of appreciating art. He understands there is something inherently flawed about trying to capture art with another medium such as cinema. “The piece speaks for itself,” the filmmaker says. “It’s a whole different art. You want me to explain the art? OK, then I have to be a poet, not an artist.”
A sort of magical perspective opens up in Hevia’s honesty about his experience of trying to make this documentary about art. With the focus turned on something he so deeply knows — himself and his feelings — he offers a sympathetic gateway for the viewer to enter the world of appreciating art. He provides profound insight into what it is to take something away from art by projecting one's personal knowledge, beliefs, and experiences onto the work.
“I feel like the goal of the movie was to talk about what I took away from the work because I was not in the position to speak authoritatively about what the work was,” Hevia says. “I didn’t speak the language half the time, so how am I supposed to know the history of each piece or what it means? I can tell you how I felt. What it conveyed to me, I can try to convey to you... The best-case scenario is you give people a way to re-explore the art or conceptualize it differently or process it in a new way.”
Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 17, at Broward College, 3501 SW Davie Rd., Davie; and 8 p.m. Friday, October 18, at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay. Director Andrew Hevia will be present at both screenings for an introduction and Q&A.