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“I believe we can start a movement to apply practical solutions to systemic injustice” With Roger Hill, director of ‘Huckleberry’

I believe there are practical solutions to systemic injustice. I would prioritize efforts to bring equity to the public school system, by…


I believe there are practical solutions to systemic injustice. I would prioritize efforts to bring equity to the public school system, by restructuring the tax code to provide an even distribution of resources across all public schools.

I would push for socialized health care like every other industrialized country in the world, so people don’t die because of the price of insulin or go bankrupt if they have a medical emergency. I would decrease military spending and increase endowments for the arts. I’d bring back the WPA. Invest in solar and reusable resources, plan to phase out fossil fuels. I’d love to do all of that and more, but I know that people of great influence do not always make the best leaders of movements, as all people are fallible, corruptible and limited in their scope to see beyond their own lives.

I feel the movements of today such as Black Lives Matter or the MeToo Movement have been successful largely because they are not defined by the leadership, but rather by the collective strength of its supporters and champions. I don’t think I’ll ever have great influence, but I can recognize the areas where I can help, check my privilege as needed, educate myself and do my best to stay on the right side of history. I think that’s all we can ask of ourselves.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Hill the director of the new movie Huckleberry. After a decade working as a documentary filmmaker, Roger Hill returns to his narrative-fiction roots with Huckleberry. A film about a transgender youth growing up in the late 90’s, which Mr. Hill began writing at the age of 17. Roger currently divides his time between San Francisco, where he founded SF Quality Video, specializing in advocacy videos for non-profit organizations, and Cleveland Ohio after founding the independent film company Rust Belt Productions in 2017. Huckleberry made its world premiere at the Marina Del Rey Film Festival on Thursday October 18.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Since High School I knew I wanted to direct films. Growing up in the mid-nineties in an economically depressed part of Ohio however made that goal difficult. I began writing this film, Huckleberry, around this time and found an outlet for creative expression and releasing teenage angst. Once I got started writing I was hooked. In college I was having a political awakening and began making protest-centric documentaries during the run up to the War on Iraq. I remember vividly yelling at the news on television in my college flop house and feeling so powerless in that equation. It was shortly thereafter that I invested all the money I had in a Sony VX2000 mini dv camera and began making my first film Witness a Peace Movement. Since then I’ve pretty much consistently had a project in production.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I was filming an anti-war protest on the campus of Kent State University in Kent Ohio. It was the commemorative event of the deaths of four students at the hands of the national guard during anti-war protests in 1970. The police presence at this protest was overwhelming, with riot cops and a helicopter over head, it was really heavy handed.

Despite the police presence we marched downtown and took the streets. A few blocks down we were met by a wall of riot cops. They ushered us off the street and randomly began arresting protesters in the grass. It was all very arbitrary and they were very violent in their handling of protesters. Seconds after watching my friend go down in a choke hold, one of the cops pointed at me and I was snatched out of the crowd. For some reason at the last second I turned my camera off. The police took my camera and I spent the next several hours in jail with the rest of those who’d been arrested.

Later when I got my camera back I looked at the footage of my arrest. It was then I discovered some very interesting footage. It seems the cop who took my camera had accidentally turned it back on and the footage was rolling as the camera was passed from one cop to another and eventually onto the bus where we were sitting handcuffed. It was really priceless footage that made the final cut.

Postscript to that story. We sued for wrongful arrest and won a settlement, it was the first of two settlements I received for wrongful arrest while documenting protests. By far the most funding I received for that film came from legal settlements for wrongful arrest, which is delicious irony in my opinion.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Jeez, I’ve made so many mistakes. OK, I actually have two examples for the most ridiculous mistake that I managed to make not once but twice. I’m a perfectionist, that can get me in trouble if it’s not checked. In college I and a few friends had a public access news show where I would screen some of my short documentaries. I was furiously editing the piece the night before and stayed up until like 5 am. Woke up and resumed editing. Never did I export a DVD, which was the preferred format at the time. Instead I just kept editing as the time slipped away. Finally I started the export and it was too late, it was going to take too much time as the show was about to start. I frantically disconnected my hulking desktop computer, threw it in my car and drove to the station. Everyone was panicking, we needed to figure out how to connect the computer to the AV system with minutes to spare. Somehow we figured it out and the show aired by the thinnest of margins. Lesson learned right. Nope, not for me. I did the same exact thing while preparing to screen the rough cut of my film Struggle at the ATA in San Francisco. I again hoisted my desktop in the car and linked up to their av system. It was so bad, I wasn’t even screening an export but rather just playing the film from Premiere Pro. It was ridiculous, at one point I had to stop the screening to unmute a bunch of tracks I’d forgotten about. Somehow we got through the show and had a productive Q & A. My friend afterwards was dumbfounded that I hadn’t made a backup the night before just in case I didn’t finish the edit in time. Since then I’ve cleaned up a lot of my bad habits, thankfully.


What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have a couple projects in development in addition to promoting Huckleberry. I’m currently writing a drama primarily set along what’s known as the “Loneliest Road in America,” route 50 through Nevada. It’s about that brief moment in time between life transitions and is centered around two couples. One a couple of recent college graduates moving to California from the East Coast and the other a couple in their late 30’s moving from San Francisco (back) to the Midwest. It’s a reflective film, but the points of stress on the character’s relationships is something that will be explored in a unique variety of ways.

I’m also penning a series set in different communities of San Francisco criminal organizations both past and present. With a stylistic approach influenced by the wild tales when the city was nicknamed the “Barbary Coast.”

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ll focus on my relationship with the person I’ve worked the closest with over an extended period of time and that is my co-director on Flying Paper, Nitin Sawhney. Yep, I definitely have stories. I met Nitin in the winter of 2009 on a flight to Cairo as we were both heading with an international delegation through Egypt to the Gaza Strip. I was not exactly prepared in my itinerary for the voyage and had not booked lodging in Cairo, learning on the flight it was the week of Coptic Christmas and the hotels were mostly booked solid I began to realize the immediacy of my situation, and then pretty much begged and manipulated Nitin, minutes after introduction, into allowing me to crash in his hotel room. He was a good sport and we unknowingly formed a life-long friendship that day. I remained his roommate for the next two weeks as visas were revoked, protests were lodged, and Egyptian secret police began monitoring our entire delegation’s movements about the city. This was an interesting time to say the least.

Six months later we returned to Egypt, made our way across the Sinai, separately, and met in Gaza where we worked with young people in the Jabaliya refugee camp as part of a workshop Nitin founded called Voices Beyond Walls, in the weeks to follow we worked with some of these young filmmakers as we began production on Flying Paper: the story of youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown.

My work with Nitin and young people in Gaza, has been life changing and continues to motivate me in my efforts to continue on as a storyteller.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Harvest a chip on your shoulder fueled by your doubters and detractors over the years. Use as needed. Early in my career proving myself to my imaginary haters was a big motivator towards getting me out in the world camera in hand. Now it’s less useful and hopefully you won’t have to go to this well too often and will thrive from the good vibrations of putting your best self out there, but more likely than not there will be times where the stress and unpredictability of it all will make you question taking an easier path. This may be the time to stiffen your jaw, envision those neigh sayers, and say to yourself “you will not beat me.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe there are practical solutions to systemic injustice. I would prioritize efforts to bring equity to the public school system, by restructuring the tax code to provide an even distribution of resources across all public schools.

I would push for socialized health care like every other industrialized country in the world, so people don’t die because of the price of insulin or go bankrupt if they have a medical emergency. I would decrease military spending and increase endowments for the arts. I’d bring back the WPA. Invest in solar and reusable resources, plan to phase out fossil fuels. I’d love to do all of that and more, but I know that people of great influence do not always make the best leaders of movements, as all people are fallible, corruptible and limited in their scope to see beyond their own lives.

I feel the movements of today such as Black Lives Matter or the MeToo Movement have been successful largely because they are not defined by the leadership, but rather by the collective strength of its supporters and champions. I don’t think I’ll ever have great influence, but I can recognize the areas where I can help, check my privilege as needed, educate myself and do my best to stay on the right side of history. I think that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t cheap on storage for your footage/back up your footage. One of my mentors Tom Hayes did once tell me that “Murphy was an optimist and in fact in film: What can’t go wrong will go wrong” but that came a little late. There is nothing worse than losing footage because of a hard drive malfunction. It’s happened to me and is agonizing. I’d rather be robbed of all my gear, because it’s insured and replaceable, than lose footage that can never be recaptured. I was so paranoid during the shoot for Huckleberry that we had up to four backups for the footage. I mean storage is cheap now, there really is no excuse.

2. Insure your equipment. My first camera, the aforementioned Sony VX2000 I actually did insure. Although I should take my own advice here, because I’ve definitely slacked on several of my current pieces of gear. It hasn’t screwed me yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time. But anyway my first camera went through hell and back and survived tear gas, police batons, thousands of hours of tape, I mean it was a real work horse. Years later I was filming in a Palestinian refugee camp and a soccer ball bounced off a wall and knocked it out of my hands. Miraculously the camera kept working until I got home the next week and then never again. I filed a claim, got my insurance money and upgraded cameras at no personal cost.

3. Be proactive, not just reactive. I think I really struggled with my first two documentaries “Witness a Peace Movement” and “Struggle” because I was reporting on things as they were happening. So there was an incredible amount of pressure to get my work out there to stay relevant in the news cycle. The problem is documentaries don’t work like that, they take a lot of time and cultivation. I hung in there and did finish each film, but by the time they were complete it was hard to market them as they were each so intrinsically tied to a place in history (The anti-Iraq-war movement and voter suppression in the 2004 presidential election.) Finally I realized I needed to focus on stories that were both under-reported and timeless. My last documentary Flying Paper I believe followed this new directive as does Huckleberry. This has completely changed my approach to filmmaking and allowed me to proceed with patience and planning, instead of scrambling to cover things as they unfold. This is certainly true for documentary filmmaking but also applies to narrative work as well, remember that society will shift between the time you start the film and finish it, and it’s important to have a strategy to take this into account as your assumptions going in may change by the time it’s released.

4. I think young filmmakers really fail to grasp how much work goes into promoting their films. It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with. We all just want to make our films, hand them off and move onto the next one, but until you’re established it does not work that way. You have to prepare press kits, reach out to media, organize and attend screenings, network, pitch, scratch, claw, beg, borrow and steal your way into the social consciousness. It’s really hard work, and can be agonizing especially for artists, as we can be introverted folks who don’t love talking ourselves up, but it’s necessary, you gotta do it, or prepare to have your baby sit on a shelf for only yourself and your close circle of friends to enjoy. I truly wish someone had prepared me for this. Completing your first film can feel so entirely overwhelming. This is something that should be made a point of emphasis in film education, but sadly I think it’s often overlooked in academia as it is certainly a less concrete element of the filmmaking process. There is no one way to promote your work, but you gotta find a way for yourself because no one’s going to do it for you. I’m a walking example of this. To date I’m not satisfied with the reach of any of my films, but I’m steadily making progress and that last hurdle, while still there, seems less overwhelming than it did before.

5. Enjoy the process. I think this is the most important thing. I remember screening a collection of my short documentaries in San Francisco at Artist’s Television Access, an awesome DIY film space, and after running around like a chicken with its head cut off getting ready for the show, I had my audience in their seats and the videos were playing. I think I was still in hyper activity mode though because I kept bouncing around checking on things. Finally I said to myself “Stop, sit down and enjoy this moment in time.” I remember sitting on the stairs watching the audience and feeling at peace with the moment. Here I was, with a full house watching my labor of love in one of the coolest cities in the world. This was why I pursued this career in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of that, I think, so every once in a while you gotta check yourself and just be at peace in the moment and savor it, because these moments are what you’ll be blessed to remember on your deathbed, not the pressure of preparing for a shoot, the drudgery of the edit, or the heartache at a festival rejection, but the moments where it all clicks and you find yourself satisfied in your pursuits, rare as these can be, they make it all worthwhile.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Fear not the shitty first draft.” Words to live by from my friend Kia. As a writer, for me at least, starting a project is definitely the hardest stage. I love editing and fine tuning, but to get that first draft complete is a huge challenge. I think it’s so important not to put too much pressure on the start of a project, it will evolve, it will change, but it needs a foundation first. We sabotage ourselves as artists when we expect great things to happen quickly, or directly. The creative process is a winding road and a lot of times it leads us down dead end paths, but we never know until we try and to remove fear and self doubt from the process of the first draft or the rough cut will open up avenues of expression we may never have imagined. So get after it, the shittier the first draft the better.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I guess this implies that I’ve achieved success. Awesome. No one gets anywhere in film on their own, it’s a collaborative process and even when I was one-man-banding my documentaries I still relied on some key people to keep me focused and motivated. I think I’d have to say two people who supported me early in my career have been the most influential for me. Ruth Bradley and Tom Hayes. Ruth has since retired but both she and Tom were faculty at Ohio University in the FIlm Division during my college days. In 2003 I made the decision to drop out of college for a year to pursue documentary filmmaking full time. This was a decision that was fraught with peril as I had no safety net other than a part time job delivering pizzas, and no institution to provide structure for my efforts to advance as a filmmaker, at least not in an official capacity. It was at this time that Ruth began meeting with me one on one to review my process and keep me focused. She instilled so much confidence in me, and the fact that she took the time for someone who wasn’t even enrolled meant the world to me. Tom arrived the next year and was as accomplished a documentary filmmaker as I’d ever met. Tom and I would meet regularly and discuss our films. He watched my first rough cut. I walked into that meeting feeling like a genius only to have him rip my cut apart, I mean eviscerate it wholly and completely. It was great, and just what I needed. He ended by telling me where he saw strengths in the cut, but in no uncertain terms informed me that I’d need to do much better than this to make my way as a filmmaker. Only people who really care about you and your development as a filmmaker will give you that level of honesty and I wasn’t upset afterwards, I felt validated that I was on my path. Tom remains an important person in my career and was instrumental in shoring up support from Ohio University for the production of Huckleberry, I’m also honored to have contributed footage to his documentary Two Blue Lines.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to meet Laverne Cox and chat with her about how she could really help our film Huckleberry reach a wide audience, and how we could work together to continue advancing representation for trans and non-binary folks in the media. Her work has been awesome and really inspirational as she seamlessly blends her activism with her life’s work and her own pursuit of happiness. There are a lot of other people like Laverne who I’d love to sit down and have a conversation with, especially as I’m still a fledgling film director looking for opportunities to hone my craft and tell and intriguing story, but if I had to pick a name out of the blue it’d be Laverne Cox.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’d love for people to follow the updates for Huckleberry and they can do so here:

facebook.com/huckleberrymovie

Instagram: @huckleberrymovie

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram:

facebook.com/Mentalrev

@RogerGlennHill

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Thank you, it’s been fun!!!

Originally published at medium.com

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