Getting To Know: Phil Hessler


Phil Hessler has an immense amount experience as both a content creator and competitive snowboarder. Phil is the co-director of the AFS 2015 documentary, Far From Home that is currently being showcased in NamibiaMake sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest updates.

What’s your first memory of sitting in a movie theater?
One of my most vivid memories of sitting in a movie theatre must’ve been when I was about 11 years old. The second Harry Potter movie had just come out and I remember being in the theatre with the majority of my extended family… cousins, aunts & uncles, grandma thrown in the mix too. I remember it being such a magical experience because of how we were all able to share the film together. Movies bring people together.

What do you love most about being a filmmaker?
What I love most about being a filmmaker is that filmmaking is totally up to your judgment, interpretation, and process as to how you tell a story. It’s your style of filmmaking that you are showcasing to an audience. Two filmmakers can make a movie about the same story can easily create two entirely different films. It is a very intuitive process and you can feel when things are going well and when things are going wrong. At the same time it’s also very collaborative and having different viewpoints on a story can bring the best film to life if you are able to work well together. There is no rulebook that says this is exactly how things need to be done. It’s an artistic process.

What do you like least about it?
Creative slumps are the worst! When you get stuck on a story point or can’t figure out how a transition works in the edit room. But at the same time that’s how you improve as a filmmaker. Working through those tough moments to bring out the best story possible.

What or who inspired you to be a filmmaker?
Growing up I always wanted to be a professional skateboarder or snowboarder. In a way, there are similarities to filmmaking because the tricks you do on different obstacles are your own interpretation of your surroundings. You are showcasing your style in your trick selection. Both those sports are heavily based upon producing content on yourself that showcases your talents. That’s how I got into filmmaking and from there it just snowballed. Filmmaking opened up a world that was so much bigger than the niches of snowboarding and skateboarding that I lived in.

What is your favorite movie and why?
There’s a few —

Art of Flight by Brain Farm Cinema absolutely revolutionized the action sports filmmaking world. The production value is second to none and I looked to up to those guys my whole life growing up in snowboarding.

KIDS and The Basketball Diaries are two of my favorite features. I love the raw emotion captured in those films. They’re both gritty and dark and dive deep into the underworld of youth culture.

I also got to say Good Will Hunting is up there. As amazing as the film is, I also love the story behind what it took for Matt and Ben to get the film made. I mean they wrote the script in high school, Matt dropped out of Harvard and put it all into getting that film made.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be?
If I weren’t a filmmaker, I would probably be seeing how far I could go as a snowboarder. Chasing snow around the world and trying to figure out how to get paid to snowboard ha! When I just started college I thought about going into investment banking, seemed like a safe path. Thankfully those aspirations didn’t last very long and I opted for a much more creative route. I still love economics though.

What has been your favorite project to work on?
Far From Home for sure! It’s the first feature that I produced and we started working on it when we were 19 years old. It took three years to fully finish the process — from development to successfully distributing the film. It’s been a crash course in documentary filmmaking and I learned more in those three years than all previous 18.

Oh and the film is about my adopted brother from Uganda who is attempting to be the first African to snowboard in the Olympics in 2018. We’re working on a script for the feature now!

For more from Far From Home, available for pre-order on Vimeo on Demand, head on over to their website. And don’t forget to Like them on Facebook as well as follow them on Instagram.

Insider/Outsider: Exploring the Latin@ immigrant experience through filmmaking

UnknownBy Anayansi Prado

Born and raised in Panama , as a child I never dreamed of making movies or becoming a filmmaker. I grew up in a culture where art, literature and film took a backseat to more prestigious careers like medicine or law. I didn’t even know what a documentary filmmaker was or watched documentary films. I actually wanted to be a TV reporter, which in hindsight, is the closest thing that I saw to a documentary filmmaker. At 13, my family moved to the US and it was one of the most significant experiences in my life that would shape my work and give birth to my voice as a filmmaker. During my first semester as a broadcast journalism major in college I was exposed to the powerful visual language that is filmmaking. I immediately knew it was my true calling. My parents, having never graduated high school, could not understand what I was studying but nonetheless, they supported me all the way. Today I am the only member in my family to have graduated from college.

My documentary work for the last 15 years focuses on exploring issues of immigration and what it means to leave your home behind and start a life in a new place. I like to explore the human emotions and conditions that evolve from these events. Whether it is the story of children from Mexico traveling across the border alone to reunite with their immigrant mothers in the US (Children in No Man’s Land), or American retirees migrating to Panama for a more affordable and better quality of life (Paraiso for Sale), these situations share common human emotions that are often universal. My films aim to convey these universal emotions with the objective of connecting my audience to the story they are watching. My goal as a visual story teller is to create an understanding within the viewer that we are not as separate or different from others as we think we are. To connect audiences to the stories I tell on a human and emotional level, is to create more compassion and understanding for others. But also, on a personal level, I’m drawn to tell these stories because they allow me to reconnect and re-explore my own experinces as an immigrant in the U.S.

From the very beginning, my work has been greatly inspired by other documentary Latina/o filmmakers who are telling similar stories about our people in this country. To watch my peers create works that are fearless, brilliant and thought-provoking has always been an immense source of motivation for me. The works of Latina documentary filmmakers such as Yolanda Cruz, Natalia Almada, Vangie Griego, and others taught me that we have a responsibility to tell our own stories in our own voice and that we can do it in a smart, strong and entertaining way.

Today more than ever, I feel fortunate to have the career experience I have had as a filmmaker for over a decade and as an educator in the last couple of years. I can truly say that filmmaking changed my life. To me, making films is more than an artistic expression; it has been a way to continue to explore my own identity as a Latina, and to give a face and a voice to my community and their experiences in the U.S. and around the world.



AFS will travel to Peru in 2015.


Wildlife photography, artwork and graphic editing from Jason Wharam Photography.

AFS will travel to Russia  in 2015.



AFS will travel to Russia  in 2015.