One Day on Earth

The World's Story is Yours to Tell

For this weeks profile spotlight, we present to you filmmaker, media artist, and virtuoso interviewer, Nathaniel Hansen.

The Elders - Teaser 1 from Nathaniel Hansen on Vimeo.

Who are you and what is your profession?
My name is Nathaniel Hansen, and I'm a filmmaker and media artist. I own a small production company, and I shoot all sorts of stuff from TV shows, commercials, viral videos, documentaries, etc., you get the idea. Sometimes it pays the bills, sometimes it's life affirming and unbelievably fulfilling. I'm very lucky to love what I do for "work."

Can you tell us a little about your background and upbringing?
I was raised in what today would be considered a large family, with three sisters and a brother, so five of us total. We were all born in Portland, Oregon, and we're fairly scattered in age, and I'm the fourth out of five. We moved to Colorado when I was four, and then back to Portland when I was 12. My dad sold his successful construction business to become a restauranteur, so from age 5-12 I pretty much ate restaurant food every night. My folks would call home from the restaurant around 4 o'clock every afternoon and ask what we wanted for dinner, and I'd always order the same thing: chicken-strips, fries, and a shake. They wouldn't usually bring home the shake.

In the late 80s, the economy in Colorado tanked, so my dad closed up shop and we moved back to Portland where he started another construction company. I grew up working for his company every summer, which I hated at the time but really appreciate now. He taught me through quiet example what it means to be honest, work hard and be successful, and literally through his blood sweat and tears, he always provided well for our family. He has a true entrepreneurial spirit and a real gift to just get things done.

Lilah - A Documentary Short from Nathaniel Hansen on Vimeo.

What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
I went to college in Hawaii, majored in Cultural Studies and Humanities, and minored in Theater. I was on an acting scholarship all four years, and really enjoyed being on stage in small and large roles. In my course work, we watched a lot of interesting foreign films and documentaries, and I really connected with the idea of film as an expressive art form that communicates in layers. It was kind of a revelation to me. I'm a visual learner, but the idea that I could craft multi-layered, symbolic artwork that could communicate different things to different people really got the wheels spinning. My own art had always been performative, and film to me is very performative, so it didn't take much to get excited about the possibilities.

My senior thesis was anthropological in nature, and took me to New Caledonia for six weeks to film indigenous use of performance and art as a means of creating a space for social change, in addition to it being an ongoing non-violent protest against the French government. It was a life-changing experience for a lot of reasons, but while there, I met some museum curators and they were very complimentary of the footage I was getting. For me, I was just pointing and shooting, but over and over I was being told that the images were really good. The MET in NYC bought the footage, and that's really what got me thinking. I so much loved my six-week filming adventure that I began to think about how to pursue it full time. As soon as I got home, I found and applied to a graduate program at Emerson College so I could get some formal training. More than anything, it was my time in New Caledonia and just after returning home and sharing the footage with friends and professors, that really made me feel like I had just found my life's calling.

Who are your heroes?
My dad is a hero, I already talked about him a bit, but my other hero is my best friend from college, Felicity Salmon. We met in a play (As You Like It) where she had the lead role. She's an amazing performer and a very talented musician. When we met, I was just floating and had no real direction. She pushed me, harder than anyone ever had, to discover who I was and to dig in to uncover what I could do to make a difference in the world. I'd never met anyone like her. We casually dated for two years and then she graduated and got in to a grad program at the Boston Conservatory. I didn't want her to slip away, so after a lot of discussion (still feeling pretty young at 24) we got married. That was 10 years ago, and she's my fiercest supporter and my most honest critic. My work is better because she screens every rough cut and can be brutally honest. While she wouldn't readily admit it, she's very much my creative partner.

What story do you want to tell on 10.10.10?
I've been thinking a lot about this. I remember when I first saw Dziga Vertov's film Man with a Movie Camera, and I was blown away. I'm thinking some sort of short homage to that film, if I can pull it off. I'm not sure I've got the chops. If things don't align, then I'd love to do a portrait film. I've done several, and it's a style I'm very comfortable with, and I feel I do it well. Either would be appropriate for the project. Who knows, by the time October rolls around I might have something different to say!

Pat - A Documentary Short from Nathaniel Hansen on Vimeo.

Why is this important to you?
We all have stories to tell. I've told at least five in this interview! Narrative has provided the primary means of communication since the beginning of our race, and it's still that way. We're surrounded everyday, all day, by stories. Whether it's the story of our town or city, the nation we live in, or the story of an individual, stories are everywhere. Almost by default, we are expert storytellers. My 3 year old son loves to tell stories and loves to be told stories. They're the hi-light of his days.

Some of us tell other people's stories, some of us tell our own stories. All of us have an opportunity to experience stories, and sometimes live vicariously though the experiences of others. The vicarious part of story is something we easily forget, but it's how we learn and it contributes to our moral makeup. I don't necessarily have to go through something to experience it. Others might disagree, but good performance, a story told well, can stir within us - even stay with us, over a lifetime and can easily impact lives over generations. I can experience the full range of human emotion through good story. 10.10.10 gives each of us a chance to act, and be acted upon, by great stories so I'll be honored to be taking part.

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Comment by Sebastian Panakal on August 20, 2010 at 1:49pm
I appreciate what you are doing. Keep up the good work. Be following you all through 10.10.10 and thereafter.


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