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IFF Panama: ’Moonlight’ Co-producer Andrew Hevia: ‘Filmmaking Requires a Start-up Mentality’

Miami-based producer attends IFF Panama to present his latest pic “Cenizas”

PANAMA CITY — Academy Award winning producer Andrew Hevia is attending the 7th IFF Panama to present his latest production, Ecuadorian writer- director Juan Sebastian Jacome’s “Cenizas” (“Ashes”), as well as conducting a low-budget filmmaking workshop.

Hevia and Jacome met at the Florida State University Film School, and decided to team up for “Ashes,” which is Hevia’s first feature film since co-producing “Moonlight,” that was directed by fellow Florida State-alumnus Barry Jenkins.

The Ecuador-shot sexual abuse-themed pic is co-produced by Hevia, Panama’s Irina Caballero and Uruguay’s German Tejeira.

Hevia is currently completing his personal documentary, “Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window”, which he lensed in Hong Kong while on a 10-month Fulbright scholarship.

He has used a start-up mindset to produce award-winning films by directors such as Jenkins, Phil Lord and Hannah Fidell and to launch the Borscht Film Festival, called “the weirdest film festival on the planet,” by Indiewire.

During the low-budget filmmaking workshop, Hevia explained that “it can be better to have no money than some money. Money allows you to make what other people are already doing. When you eliminate money, you have to focus on your narrative resources and tell stories in a fun and inventive manner – and make a film that people want to watch.”

He emphasized the opportunities provided by digital tools, citing examples such as Steven Soderbergh’s recent iPhone-shot “Unsane.”

His core advice included creating a sense of place, focusing on texture and sound, making the specific accessible and giving profound meaning to the simplest moments.

Talking about “Moonlight,” Hevia said that Jenkins applied a world cinema aesthetic, thereby making it fresh for American audiences and accessible to international audiences. He said that two of Jenkins’ favorite pics are Claire Denis’ “Friday Night” and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Three Times.”

Hevia also advised budding filmmakers to make a film for a specific audience that cares, and focus on that community, saying that in his own experience having a direct hand-to-hand experience with a local audience in Miami has been vital to his films.

“They say the best part of Miami is that it’s so close to the United States. But that gives us an “outsider” status which is really stimulating. We don’t have the burden of an entrenched film industry, and that gives us incredible freedom.”

“I think the films that connect with audiences need to have a start-up feel, and loads of innovation in the way they’re edited and communicate with audiences. The types of stories we can tell are suddenly up for grabs.”

Hevia has a master’s degree in Media Entrepreneurship from the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham U, and said that film producing is all about creative entrepreneurship, citing Eric Rees’ book, “The Lean Startup” as inspiration.

“You have to adopt an entrepreneurial mind set and do the kind of things a tech founder would think about.”

He said that the pioneering involvement of indie distributor, A24, in “Moonlight” was crucial to the film’s success.

“They understand you can find audiences in new ways. You know that an A24 film will be different.”

Hevia also believes that new technologies and new communication strategies offer opportunities for films from Central and South America.

“One of things with ‘Ashes’ is to to show how necessary it is to talk in the wake of sexual abuse,” Hevia explained,

In the film, the menace of a volcanic eruption in Ecuador serves as a metaphor for this impending explosion. “All of a sudden a theme like this is relevant globally. You really can’t plan for these things but you have to capitalize on them. Taking the film to festivals helps build engagement. It’s like Roger Ebert used to say: Films are like an “empathy machine.”

“We can’t leave storytelling resources in the hands of the few. That’s one of the things that made “Moonlight” so special, the characters were speaking about their experience in that neighborhood.”

Hevia said that his upcoming “Leave the Bus” has the same spirit, calling it creative non-fiction. “It’s a personal POV doc. My camera is my POV. I had a DSLR and nobody knew I was making a feature film. Suddenly that gives you great creative freedom. You can break the rules and see if it works.”

Asked whether he would like to make a film like “La La Land,” he smiled: “Of course. That’s also a film rooted in a very specific community and which spoke to a specific audience. I’d love to make a film like that.”

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