With an impressive twenty years of experience in film, television, making documentaries and relaying the realities of things often kept well hidden from sight; filmmaker Paul Nevison, shares life through the lens, telling stories on film that disturb, challenge and move the comfortable. Stories that can still render him speechless. He is not always prepared for the situations he encounters. He definitely didn’t expect to be filling out ‘proof of life’ questions in case of kidnap at one of his last locations.
What compels Paul to pack his camera gear, and board yet another flight, far from his peaceful seaside town on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast? “I see the way the world is and it’s not the way it should be. I feel a responsibility to the people I share the planet with,” Paul tells me. “So contrary to the fear filled mantras of the media and the politicians, I have to politely say, I have no enemies just neighbours I’ve not yet had the chance to meet.” I ask one of the most relevant film makers and story tellers of our current generation, how, and why…
How would you describe what you do?
I am someone who is curious about why humans are they way we are and I try to explore that through telling stories in film. That curiosity has taken me to many different parts of the world. I have a particular interest in issues of social justice and much of my film work revolves around telling the stories of the dispossessed and disenfranchised.
What does a typical day look like for you?
If a day is going to start well then an excellent cup of brewed coffee is a must…Chemex being my preferred method. Then like most people it’s a juggle.
If it’s a shooting day, it usually means waking up at some unconscionably early hour to be at a location to shoot when the blue morning light is breaking. Filming days go from shooting scenes, scouting locations, interviews, lugging gear and navigating various forms of transport.
Post production looks like many hours in a small darkened room, yelling at a screen because you forgot to get a particular shot or ask a specific, pertinent question. Or I’m writing treatments for future projects that communicate the vision of the film to clients and collaborators and then before you know, it’s 3pm and the kids need picking up from school.
The competition in the creative arena can be fierce. How do you manage to stay on top? How do you set yourself apart?
It’s not really something I ever think about. Success and ‘making it’ are such illusionary constructs. To be successful at four (years old) means being toilet trained, while being successful at 94 means having your driver’s license and still being toilet trained. So, whatever it means to be ‘successful’ must ebb and flow as our lives unfold.
Doing work that is interesting, with people whose company I enjoy, is important and then if the work helps push the dial along a few clicks then that is satisfying. Whenever I think of our imagined pecking order and various hierarchies I’m always reminded of the words of Thomas Merton who wryly noted that, ‘People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.’
What skills and life lessons have been important?
Nobody much likes a ‘know it all’ and I think the best antidote to that is to embody the spirit of student. There is always more to learn and there are always going to be people who are better and more talented than you. So, I think if you can take a position that is eager to learn, life will go a lot smoother.
Empathy is a vital lifeskill that is extremely important to be able to effectively tell someone’s story…but even more important than that – the ability to walk in another person’s shoes, just makes you a better human. The reason for the combative and polarised nature of much of the dialogue that goes on in the public square is due to a major lack of empathy. Cheered on by partisan echo chambers of disinformation, we have lost sight of the shared humanity on both sides of the issues. I think it’s important that people should know how other people feel. Maybe then we would have a kinder and gentler world to live in.
How do you stay motivated?
I was having this conversation with a filmmaker friend this week about not being ‘hungry’ and chasing down the next big opportunity. I concluded that maybe I’m just not ambitious enough? I think this is for two reasons: the first being, everything I’ve done up until now has been mostly unplanned. I just kept walking through open doors and as a result, I have had and continue to have a fulfilling career. I haven’t orchestrated things thus far so I think why get involved now and mess it up?
The second thing is that maybe I am ambitious, but just for different things. And it comes back to this corrupted idea of success and its evil twin – productivity.
We get sold this lie that success has only a very narrow definition that usually involves a lot of money and/or fame and notoriety – then in order to achieve these trinkets we must sacrifice everything dear to us in the name of ‘productivity.’ How has spending aimless and unstructured time playing with our kids come to be called “wasted time” or “unproductive”? Why do we feel guilty for taking walks or staring into space for no particular reason? The success/productivity mantra decrees that the busy person is the best person….and this is the tragedy of confusing productivity with purpose.
The writer Henry Thoreau put it best when he wrote, ‘The really efficient labourer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. Why should the hen sit all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.’