Filmmaker Justin Hunt: The Interview
The US-based writer, director and producer on the difficulties of modern fatherhood, his take on social media and life in the American West.
If there was one source of social imbalances that seems to be ubiquitious regardless of time it would probably be fatherhood.
Through out time, the core aspects of fatherhood as a cause for social shortcomings, both on a micro and a macro level, have mainly revolved around either too much or too little fatherly power, influence and attention.
The pater familias
As an example for a ‘too much’-relation to fatherhood, one could just think of ancient societies like Rome and Greece where the head of an extended family, the pater familias, was both judge and jury at the same time. Ruling over his family – that is his agricultural estate including family members and their families, slaves and their families, servants, guards, all in all a community anywhere in between 50 and 500 people – the father was more of an indisputable institution than a mere mortal being. In a historical perspective, fatherhood has always been at the verge of being ‘too much’ rather than ‘too little’.
Modern life faces the flipside to that coin, namely the ‘not enough’-relation to fatherhood.
While the industrial revolution has taken the father out of the household, making him a seasonal experience for wife and children that will most likely spend no time with him during their most active hours of the day, the idea of fatherhood took an almost final hit after the Great Depression (USA) and World War II (Europe).
No Father, But A Dad
At this point in modern life even the very last expertise of fatherhood – the economic survival of the family unit – was taken out of his hands and was placed into those of the emerging welfare state.
Naturally, things are more complex than any brief review of the topic could point out, but to go all the way in painting black-and-white: what seems to be left of fatherhood these days is not the father, but the dad, the potentially absent father who is deprived of his core role within the family.
Addressing Fatherhood: Justin Hunt
Outside of approaching the topic of fatherhood through history or sociology US-based writer, film maker and director Justin Hunt has found a practical approach to the matter. Releasing the critically acclaimed
documentary of Absent in 2010 Hunt has made a name for himself in indepent filmmaking with many of his works focusing on the ‘problem’ of fatherhood.
In Absent Hunt gave floor to individuals that a). represent society as the classic pars pro toto as well as b). show the social impact of an imbalanced fatherhood. Deviance in behaviour has its appearance by giving word to a prostitute and her personal account on her father, misled anger and aggression is personified in (the late) Johnny Tapia, featherweight boxing champion of the IBF, while fame and addiction is represented by none other than frontman and now sober lead-singer of famous rockband Metallica, James Hetfield.
While Hunt’s work gives great insight into the effects of fatherlessness, the wider reasons behind that phenomenon seem to play a minor role in his documentaries of Absent, American Meth or even Far Too Far. – Let’s turn to the source to find some answers to these open questions.
» Justin, if you asked me then the first movie on fatherlessness was Rebel Without a Cause where James Dean’s character is accusing his present yet absent parents of “tearing him apart”. At the same time, I couldn’t think of a similar movie or story stemming from the time before the 1950s – it seems that fatherlessness as an epidemic is only 50 years old or so.
What went wrong? When and why did all this start?
The issue of fathers somehow wounding their children and the ensuing struggles have been around for quite some time, such stories are peppered throughout historical literature and lore, but they definitely did begin to come to the forefront after the Second World War and the Industrial Revolution. It was then that gender roles were much more defined and the separation began between father and child. Men were going off to work and coming home with nothing left to offer their children, whereas, in the past, they tended to work together at home as a family and the relationship was much more incubated.
Ironically, if you really think about it, the entire concept of ‘adolescence’ is a fairly new idea. We didn’t really see these phases of teenage angst and curiosity and being lost, so to speak,
until we started seeing generations of children without engaging fathers. Sadly, what was once a period of, say, age 17-19 in the first generation of adolescent children, is now going up into the 40s and 50s with so called adults still wandering around like lost boys and girls; the ‘peter pan’ syndrome, if you will.
I often use the analogy of video tape to describe the current situation of father wounds and expanding adolescence. If you remember back in the VHS days, every time you made a copy of a tape, that new copy had a little less quality than the one before it. It was more faint and harder to see clearly. In the news business, we called that ‘losing a generation’. It’s much the same here. With each passing generation, the noble role of fatherhood seems to be a little less and less recognizable.
Absent (2010) trailer
» But ‘expanding adolescence’ seems to be the name of the game these days. Without higher education, i.e. without expanding your adolescence for anything between 2 to 6 years or even more young men won’t stand a chance on the job market. Is there a way out at all?
I don’t mean it so much in a career or educational sense, but in a cultural manner. Men behaving like boys, constantly searching for affirmation in women, materialism, money. There is a shortage of mentors and leaders who use such words as nobility, legacy and morality in their vocabulary. Women who seek eternal youth through cosmetic means. Mothers who try to dress and act like their teenage daughters.
The root of the issue is that we don’t have adults like we once did to teach, provide safe forums to grow and mature for their children, to mentor them. Because of the fleeting role of fatherhood, it’s becoming more and more a culture of kids, even in their 30s and 40s, trying to raise kids, if you will.
» While there is an abundance of social movements out there protesting against injustice, rebellion against neglect or against authority has almost disappeared. At the same time disorders like addicton and self-injury are practically exploding. You yourself are currently working on a project on pornography addiction. Do you see a trend towards an internalization and individualization of conflict here?
What i really see these days is a fading sense of community and an all-consuming sense of individualism in society as a whole. To be honest, I think social media plays a big part in this. Attention and affirmation are dangerous drugs and very addictive. The surface-level representation of people’s lives and the false projection to others of who we truly are is leaving many as nothing more than a shell of a person.
When we try to simply put on a presentation of who we are to others, yet don’t have the internal self-worth that is so vital to a healthy life, there are massive amounts of issues that can get the upper hand on a person. Trying to maintain a false self on the exterior can create such a vacuum on the interior that it can be too much to defend, thus we see such an increase in internal, personalized conflict. Add to that the dissipating aspect of community, that being those that we trust to reach out to, and it sometimes feels as though we are drifting apart from each other as human beings.
I’m not going to lie, I loathe social media
I‘m not going to lie, I loathe social media. That, unfortunately, doesn’t always bode well for someone in the public arena such as I am. I don’t tweet, no Instagram here, and rarely do I get on Facebook. I think the last post I had on my fan page was november 24th. It, to me, is a necessary evil to let folks know about my films, but I rarely get any more personal than that. I think, despite the limited amount of good it’s brought us, it’s dumbed us down socially and created a false sense of reality for so many people.
» Let’s talk making movies. When producing you work all by yourself. Writing, production and post-production, everything is done by the very same hands. What made you choose the one-man approach to working as a filmmaker? Or do you outsource the one or other task?
Part of it was practical, part by necessity. When I was younger and working for NBC News here in the States, we had to be a one-man band. Thus, I learned to shoot, write, edit, interview etc., because I had to. I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Fast forward to the films I work on, it makes sense that I would save the cost of such aspects, since I was capable of handling them myself. Conversely, it would be nice to outsource some of these things, but being that I finance these projects myself, for the most part, I just don’t have the funds to do that, or I feel that what funds I do have can be put to better use. I take great pride in the fact that I’ve done these films on my own, but I think the time has come
to try and gather others around me to collaborate. In fact, I’m currently working with a production team out of the Netherlands, visual effects people from England and India, and so on.
» You are based in the US state of Colorado, a part of the country that many Europeans, no offence, will have little to no idea about. Free us from stereotypes and tell us a bit about what life in the American West is like. What would be the major difference to a place like, say, New York City?
The American West is much like any other place in the world. It has its ups and its downs, its pros and cons. Just like any other location, people strive to survive via the daily grind, they buy homes and groceries and fuel, there are good people and bad.
One aesthetic that I would say is a bit different than, say, New York, is that it is a wide open landscape. You see huge skies, massive valleys, towering mountains, simple space. For example, just outside my window here in Colorado Springs is Pike’s Peak, a 14,000+ foot [4200m, ed.] mountain that looms beautifully over the city. Other than that, I’d say we’re just about as cosmopolitan as any other place I’ve ever been. I suppose you could say the mindset is a bit different, as well. The thought processes and actions do, at times, tend to have a bit of the Old West left in them, which I appreciate.
» The ‘Old’ West? Are you refering to crime rates or to a more developed community spirit? How ‘Old’ or ‘Wild’ is the West these days?
Not so much crime rates as social norms. Especially in the Southwest, where I grew up, there is still a great sense of ‘cowboy pride’, if you will. I was raised in rural settings and there is great pride in what one earns on their own, their sense of ownership in what is theirs, and it’s not a rarity to go to the ground with someone you feel has wronged you. Injustice is not acceptable and there is still a strong desire to fight until good prevails. That’s not to say other parts of the world don’t have those attributes, but I see it more here than any other place in the world that I’ve been.
» I can follow in regard to the cowboy pride, but “going to the ground”? You’ll need to explain that to us. Do you mean if I snatch someone’s parking space at Walgreen’s then they would just reach inside their jacket and ‘whip it out’?
By ‘going to the ground’ I mean fighting for what you think is right, be it a verbal altercation or standing toe to toe and throwing punches. That part of where I grew up is still very alive and well and it has definitely helped chisel out a big part of who I am and the drive I have to succeed, to not accept defeat, standing up for myself and my family etc.
» Glancing at your facebook account as a guest, you posted a lot of pictures from Europe recently, pictures from France in particular. What brings you to France and how does it compare to the places you normally travel to?
Photos: Pixabay.com (1), Cynic.org.uk (2), Cityose.com (3)
I was recently in Spain for a film festival, then traveled to France to visit friends and do a little bit of exploring. I’m a big fan of France, its people and all of the amazing things it has to offer. I truly enjoy traveling this wonderful world of ours, seeing new places, meeting new people. There are many people that I have met from other continents and countries that will forever be a part of my life. A perfect example of that is my fiance, who is from South Africa. Had I not had the chance to travel and meet people, I’d never have had the opportunity to meet her, which would have undoubtedly been the biggest loss of my life.
» You are currently in the post-production of “Cardboard Butterfly: The Human Struggle with Porn” and are looking to release the documentary soon. Apart from that, what’s in the making for 2016? Any more upcoming projects?
As for 2016, and the ‘butterfly’, as with most filmmakers, it’s simply trying to secure some funding that will bring that project to completion. At
this point, I’m about 40 minutes into editing and I’m very excited about the film and the potential impact it will have. Having said that, it will be my last documentary. I’m trying to make the transition into feature narrative films, with ‘far too far’ being my first attempt at that. Documentaries were simply a natural transition for a news man, I suppose.
I do have a couple of screenplays that I’d like to get produced, financed and completed. I’m also making myself available to direct other people’s projects, simply for the experience. Frankly, 2016 is going to be an exciting, exploratory year, and I’m most curious to see where things are in my life, professionally, when it comes to a close. I’m hoping euromentravel stays in touch to see how it all turns out.
» We definitely will. Thank you for your time, Justin.
END OF INTERVIEW