I met Bronwen Hughes (director of “Forces of Nature,” “Harriet the Spy” and “Stander,” as well as episodes of “The L Word” and “Breaking Bad”) on a video call, while she was in Atlanta shooting a TV series.
The focus of our conversation was her latest movie, “The Journey Is the Destination,” now streaming on Netflix. The film recounts the true story of Dan Eldon (Ben Schnetzer), who was an incredible artist and a brave, socially active photographer who traveled the world.
He died at only 22, in Somalia. However, it feels like he lived more than many other people.
What speaks the most to you about his story?
The crazy thing about Dan is that he was so young, but he already did so much. Since I was 16, I have always loved traveling — but Dan already traveled to 46 countries. I would write a diary about my trips — but Dan would keep journals that are considered art pieces. I would always support humanitarian organizations — but Dan would collect the money and deliver it in person. When I discovered his story, I felt like he did everything I loved, but maximized.
One of the biggest challenges for Dan Eldon was to be taken seriously. He was so young, yet so opinionated and sure of his choices — even questioned by his own mother. Have you ever struggled, as a director, to be taken seriously for your choices?
I was so young when I started that I feel it was a very good protection of my hopes. When you are that young you don’t even realize that it’s a problem. You just do your thing and only later you look back and you realize, “Oh, that was difficult.”
Things are more competitive now, and sometimes you may wonder, “Wait a second, with my experience, why is he getting the job?” You start being aware of things, but it’s not healthy. You can’t approach a job with those chips on your shoulder. If you already go in feeling intimidated, everybody smells it. You don’t succeed. The only way to succeed is to be passionate and so forward-thinking that all of the obstacles fall away.
I have read that you believe in eradicating “female director” as a category, in the same way that “male director” does not exist. However, the percentage of women directors has been dropping. How do you think we could change this paradigm?
For myself, my No. 1 job is to make movies no matter what it takes, so that no one can deny that females make movies. I will be the hard evidence — that’s my job. The change that is happening is vital, overdue and important but has to happen from two different ways.
One way is from the artist side: To be the hard evidence, women have to keep making good movies. On the other side, there must be the public shaming of this terrible percentage. I think that the shaming has to come from the law and the social world just as we shame people into not smoking, into not throwing garbage on the ground, into not drinking and driving.
What is missing now from the sexual harassment and the entire “me too” are all the women who were coerced and succumbed to Harvey Weinstein and people like him. You are only hearing the stories from the people who got out. You think he didn’t have sex with anybody? He did, but those people are still too ashamed to admit that they were coerced in this terrible way.
The “me too” is only the people who got out, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a way longer list of people who were coerced and can’t come out. So, yes, zero tolerance publicly, socially, governmentally and professionally. And on the other side we come out with the hard evidence that we make good movies. I think that these two things coming together is the most powerful force for change.
“The Journey Is the Destination” includes huge locations, war scenes, traveling parts. Was it a challenge to make your vision become true?
Oh my God, what a challenge! Dan traveled so much that it doesn’t even fit in a movie. And yet, it takes place across six African countries, then I did a traveling unit all over the world where just the main actor and myself departed on a plane with a little camera that shoots 4k and we went to London, Barcelona, New York.
This is part of a blog series by We Do It Together, a nonprofit film production entity created to produce films, documentaries, TV and other forms of media uniquely dedicated to the empowerment of women.