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Moonlight co-producer Andrew Hevia: “I lived in a closet for 10 months in Sai Ying Pun”

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Best known (so far) for co-producing this year’s Oscar-winning Moonlight, the former Sai Ying Pun resident is returning to his beloved SYP to work on a new movie

“This is not a joke… Moonlight has won best picture…” These are the now infamous words spoken by Jordan Horowitz, producer of 2017 Oscar heavyweight La La Land and momentary-best-film-winner, at the 89th Academy Awards earlier this year. These words followed a huge slip-up involving veteran actor Warren Beatty, who announced La La Land was best picture when, well, it wasn’t. Turns out, best picture was – deservingly – Moonlight. And we’re chatting with the film’s co-producer, Andrew Hevia, who speaks to us from the USA, where he’s hard at work on a documentary he began last year right here in Hong Kong. The still-in-progress docu-flick is called Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window and is about art, heartbreak and the time he got lost in Admiralty’s Pacific Place mall for almost two hours. And he’s coming back to our city this year to continue working on it and to start a new project too.

“By the time I processed what happened, the caviar and champagne hit and then I was at an after-party celebrating what felt like a dream.”

When Hevia returns, it’ll be his second stint in Hong Kong. He lived here for 10 months last year, living, as he puts it, ‘in a closet’ in Sai Ying Pun – which is in theDesk co-working and events space’s neighbourhood. This was just after the shooting schedule for Moonlighthad finished. He says that he stayed in a shoebox apartment and wandered the streets as much as he could. And we want to know his thoughts on our local ‘hood. But we begin by talking about ‘that’ slip-up on the Oscars stage and he says he can barely remember the night as it was ‘entirely a blur’, blaming the Piper-Heidsieck exclusive champagne on his table as the most probable perpetrator. “By the time I processed what happened,” he tells us, “the caviar and champagne hit and then I was at an after-party celebrating what felt like a dream.”

What Hevia does remember, however, with perfect clarity is the 10 months he spent in SYP. He’d moved to our city because he’d been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship – which is a UK-US grant that has been received over the years by talents like American poet Sylvia Plath and former President of Ghana, John Atta Mills – meaning he could make the documentary in Hong Kong about our art community that he’s still working on. “Fulbright is what brought me to Hong Kong for the first time,” he tells us. “It was a phenomenal experience.”

SEE ALSO: The best movies ever made in Sai Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town

Now Hevia has plans to produce a new movie with local director and Noughts and Exes frontman Joshua Wong. Hevia says Wong  ‘was the second person I met’ in the city. “I’d wandered into a screening of The Empire Strikes Back at the Opendoor Cafe and ran into Josh,” he tells us. “We hit it off and realised we had a lot in common.” Soon, Wong invited Hevia to work on his art documentary at The Laundromatte, a production company that Wong founded and ran in Sai Ying Pun for six years before it moved to TST earlier this year. All this led to the duo working together on the upcoming project – a mystery thriller they’re calling Dark Room. The movie is to portray Hong Kong as its authentic self through the eyes of a British-born Chinese woman who mistakenly captures a crime on camera and finds herself curiously searching for pieces to the dangerous puzzle.

Illustrating Hong Kong accurately in this movie is incredibly important to Hevia. He’s tried to do the same throughout his career in Miami, where he was raised, as each place, he says, ‘holds a story of its own. And to share that story is an art on its own’. And this is seen inMoonlight, a movie that genuinely represents the lives of many in Liberty City, Miami, where it was filmed.

It was actually Hevia who originally pushed to turn Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue into the movieMoonlight. He introduced Moonlight director Barry Jenkins to McCraney’s unpublished play and put the two future Academy Award winners in touch. Hevia says that without a doubt his ‘favourite scene in the film has to be the sequence in Jimmy’s East Side Diner’, in which the two protagonists reunite after many years apart, culminating in an emotional tension so dense you could cut it with a butter-knife. As Hevia watched them act out the scene on set, he was completely taken aback. “It was mesmerising,” he says, “and it’s only gotten more so on repeat viewings. Trevante Rhodes [who plays protagonist Chiron] in that scene just breaks my heart. You watch him become more vulnerable over the course of the meal and it’s incredible.”

The movie was produced on an incredibly low budget of US$1.5 million, compared to those commercial blockbusters that take hundreds-of-millions to make. In fact, it costs US$2 million for a short commercial to air during the Oscars, let alone be produced. But Hevia tells us that ‘no matter what the budget is, film producing is always about working with the resources you have available to make the best version of your story’. The 32-year-old’s passion and dedication have helped him to quickly climb up the ladder of success and make a name for himself in the film industry.

“I had a great time living in Hong Kong and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many talented creatives.”

Now he’s coming back to Hong Kong, hoping that this same passion and dedication will make Dark Room, a success. And you can be assured that while he’s in the city, his love for the neighbourhood will leer him back here. “Of course,” he says, “I will be staying in Sai Ying Pun again.” That’s despite the fact that he lived in a ‘closet’ for nearly a year. He did indeed document his shoebox life in a series of vlogs uploaded on YouTube but has ‘no regrets’ on his living situation. “This wasn’t a first,” he says. “In New York, I lived in a windowless basement room during a miserable winter. I never knew what time of day it was and hated the cold. That was pretty rough.” Hevia says it worked in his favour, though, as he used the tiny home in Sai Ying Pun as an excuse to spend time outside on our streets, exploring the city of lights. He says, in fact, that he ‘fell head-over-heels for Hong Kong’ during his stay.

SEE ALSO: Things to do in Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town this week

One of Hevia’s pastimes was taking photos of HK signs and posting them on Instagram. He calls his favourite pic ‘the all-time-most-Hong Kong sign ever: the ubiquitous ‘Slippery When Wet’ sign’. Also in our city, Hevia spent plenty of time in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Swimming Pool, where he trained for the open water Shek-O Challenge. Basically, he loves Sai Ying Pun, he loves Hong Kong and he’s coming back to create a new film and once again enjoy SYP and HK.

Going back to his roots, though, Hevia’s interest in the film industry began when he stumbled upon a book when he was just nine years old. “I found a book on the making of Jurassic Park,” he says. “Going through the storyboards of the T-Rex chase sequence, I realised that movies were made by people, instead of just things that spontaneously appeared in theatres or on TV. I became obsessed with the process.” Since then, the filmmaker, who has a Cuban-American background, has directed four movies and produced 17, including, of course, Oscar-winning Moonlight. Though the Academy Award triumph may have been the most notable prize that the film scooped, it was nominated for a whopping 249 awards. It won 205 of them. Asked how Moonlight’s success might change him, he says his ‘goal will always be to continue making films I believe in’.

Filming of his next passion project, Dark Room, will take place all over Hong Kong. “I had a great time living in Hong Kong, last time,” he says, “and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many talented creatives.” It transpires at the end of our conversation that the producer also has a penchant for Potato Head Hong Kong, that bar-cum-music venue-cum-Balinese restaurant on Third Street. When he’s back, you may just run into him there. He offers something to us and our SYP neighbours as we end the conversation by asking how we can find out more about his future projects: “If you buy me a drink at Potato Head, I’ll tell you more.” Balinese cocktail, anyone?

You can follow Hevia on Twitter: @andrew_hevia and Instagram @heylooksigns. To watch some of his work, check out 185films.com and youtube.com/user/oneeightfiveTV.

By Sitara Samtani

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