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Darrell Hartman is the co-founder of Jungles In Paris, a New York-based website and production company that is dedicated to revolutionizing what’s known as ‘armchair travel’. By collaborating with a global network of filmmakers, Hartman and his Jungle Parisians showcase the beauty, wonder, and traditions of people and places all over the world through poignant short films. The Culture Trip had the opportunity to interview Hartman about his latest production, the visually stunning Awana, while in Toronto for its world premiere at Hot Docs 2016.
Tell us a little about Jungles In Paris? What was the inspiration behind it?
My brother Oliver is a filmmaker, I’m a writer, and a few years ago we decided we wanted to do a different type of storytelling. We wanted to spend less time doing transient, commercial-feeling work and more time at the really interesting places on earth. We focus on wildlife, natural phenomena, and all the different ways of living, especially those that generate a sense of wonder, that come as a bit of a revelation. We’re really interested in people who are in tension with modernity: their existence is largely pre-digital, they are proud to do things their own way, they have no idea who, say, Miley Cyrus is. We didn’t see a lot of media outlets interested in presenting topics like this in an engaging way, so we decided to make one.
Where does the name come from?
It’s this idea of fertile, exotic, untamed places – the ‘Jungles’ – being presented in a curated, somewhat refined environment.
What is the main message or mission behind the company’s films?
We never put advocacy or even messaging front and center. But we do want to get people to think more broadly about the world. To appreciate its wonder and diversity, and come to embrace more of the values associated with ecological conservation and cultural preservation. Also, to appreciate the art of filmmaking and photography, rather than defaulting to the sort of indifferent, clickbait approach to making and consuming Internet content that can be so easy to slip into.
Tell me about your latest film Awana?
It’s an 11-minute film that looks at a Quechua woman and her process of making a woolen scarf by hand. It’s a labor-intensive process and a job she balances with raising children in simple village surroundings underneath these otherworldly mountains, and she does it all in a way that is really just amazing to watch. The approach is highly observational. But quite composed, too, in a way that I think does justice to both the craft we’re seeing and the amount of patience and focus required to do it.
How did you get involved with the project?
It’s one of four films that our friends Guille Isa and Billy Silva shot for Jungles in Paris in Peru last year. Guille is Peruvian, and lives in Lima; Billy is half-Peruvian and splits his time between Peru and New York. We’d been talking about shooting a Peru series and together came up with some topics that seemed interesting – that really seemed to capture the spirit of country, its indigenous culture in particular. They made connections on the ground and basically went adventuring in the knowledge that something good would come out it and we’d be able to find an audience.
Why have you decided to start submitting your films to festivals, such as Hot Docs?
We do lots of live screenings – in New York, mainly, but also in other cities – and there’s something really great about a roomful of people and the sort of responses you can see unfolding as the movie plays. In this case Billy is also really proactive about festival submissions. Oliver and I, the directors we work with, have varying amounts of experience in documentary, but none of us is a veteran and festivals – especially really top-notch ones like Hot Docs – are a chance to do a giant download of the industry: what kinds of films are people making, who are the talented young directors, how are films finding audiences?
What does it mean for the film’s world premiere to be at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival?
In a word: showtime! It’s definitely a step up. We’ve been pretty confident about our films since we started, but to get a validation like this obviously firms it up even more.
How have you enjoyed your time in Toronto?
For sure. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the city. Personally, I’ve noticed the people are incredibly friendly and it feels like you could eat out every night for months without ever doing the same cuisine twice. People I know who’ve lived here for years have commented on the creative energy that’s come along in the past 10 years or so. If only they had a decent hockey team.
What’s next for the film? What’s next for Jungles In Paris?
Oliver is spending about a month in Mongolia as part of an Explorers Club expedition. (We’re members and try to get uptown to the New York headquarters for lectures and just to hang out as much as we can.)
6 on the 6ix | 6 Quickfire Questions on Toronto:
Drake or The Weeknd?
The Weeknd. (Not a big pop-music guy, but my fiancée is a big Weeknd fan and responsible for this preference.)
Christopher Plummer or Donald Sutherland?
Plummer. I loved him in The Insider especially.
Best meal you’ve had while in the city?
The other night at Thoroughbred. Everything was good and the kung pao cauliflower was off the charts!
Best film you’ve seen at Hot Docs (not including yours)?
Of the small number I’ve seen, I’d have to say The Islands and the Whales. It’s about the ending of traditions, killing and eating of whales in particular, and the confusion and loss of identity that comes with it. It does justice to the fact that things that might seem straightforward from the outside are not so simple. Beautifully shot and put together.
One word to describe Hot Docs?
One word to describe Toronto?