Hillevi Loven is a filmmaker, producer and still photographer based in Brooklyn. She is making her feature-film-directing debut with “Deep Run.” In collaboration with NYU anthropologist Natasha Schull, she co-directed the documentary “Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas,” which won Best Short from the Society of Visual Anthropology. As an artist, she has received funding and support from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She has produced collaborative work with the Brooklyn art collectives Uniondocs, OVO and the Brooklyn Filmmakers’ Collective. “Deep Run” is the culmination of years of Hillevi’s own social-justice work, which began with teaching media arts to LGBT youth at the Hetrick Martin Institute in NYC. (Press materials)
“Deep Run” will premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC Film Festival on November 14.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing
HL: Shot over a five-year period, “Deep Run” chronicles the coming of age of an evangelical trans boy in rural North Carolina. The film is a raw and intimate portrait of youth — a search for identity, love and meaning in a small town.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
HL: While researching stories about evangelical millennials and the challenges they were bringing to traditional churches, I met Cole. On a gut level, the powerful resilience and strength I saw in Cole drew me to his story. Cole and his life flew in the face of many of my preconceptions about Christians, queer kids and the rural South.
As a secular born-and-bred New Yorker, I was taken by this 17 year old who was — and is — so assertive and clear about personal identity, even in a place full of condemnation of that identity. The combination of profound self-assurance and vulnerability in a kid up against such serious odds moved me.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
HL: There were numerous challenges that I learned from during the making of my first feature documentary. [The biggest challenge was] maintaining endurance as a director throughout the seven-year production process, [which] was essential to finishing “Deep Run.”
Cole’s perseverance and clarity of self inspired me to finish the film even in the face of various setbacks.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
HL: Having a community of filmmakers has been very important to me as an independent filmmaker. I belong to Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, and over the years this group has given me indispensable feedback on “Deep Run” scenes and rough cuts. My female filmmaker colleagues have been invaluable collaborators and mentors, as well as viewers.
It is critical for female filmmakers to build a network with other women artists in order to share resources and support and to gain familiarity with each other’s projects. A lot of this work, especially in the film development and fundraising stages, is solitary — and solidarity is a lifesaver.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
HL: I want people to leave the theater with a sense of recognition that comes with having seen part of themselves in Cole’s story. My hope is that Cole’s journey will resonate on at least one level with each viewer personally. When I first met Cole, he welcomed me into his world and shared his struggles and aspirations with me. I want the audience of this film to feel similarly welcomed and awakened to Cole’s reality.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
HL: Many people first assume “Deep Run” is a film primarily about a trans person and their transition, but for me, this is a story about self-determination and the bravery that many people exhibit in their everyday lives. I am interested in stories of individual grit and courage that reflect larger societal struggles around sexuality, gender and race.
W&H: How did you get your film funded?
HL: Chasing down and receiving funding for independent documentary films is quite a challenge — to state the obvious — especially for first-time directors. Being persistent is essential, and I am very, very persistent.
I started shooting the film using my own funds. A few years into following Cole’s story, I received some small grants and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. Being awarded a 2013 Sundance DFP grant was our first larger institutional recognition.
Chris Talbott and Samara Levenshtein, the film’s producers, have been incredibly dedicated to developing relationships with investors and backers, while at the same time raising funds through grant writing. We have also been lucky enough to have long-term support from people who believed in the film, and these backers have gotten us through quite a few rough patches.
HL: Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” is one of my favorite women-directed films. I love the film’s raw feeling, and the performances sing with a potent combination of professional and non-professional actors. I love the way we are brought so far into this bleak and beautiful filmic world that centers around one intrepid female character.