Alex LEE: ‘An Intergenerational Meeting.’

IMG_7507A New Zealand documentary, Hip-Hop-eration, is one of eleven competition films at this 13th FIFO. A genuine ode to life, it follows the journey of a very unique dance group: elderly people living on the New Zealand island Waihiki who dance hip-hop and would like to participate in the world championships in Las Vegas. This hilarious as well as moving film has been screened around the world. It has been much appreciated by international audiences. Ultimately this is the most important thing according to producer Alex Lee who is on the fenua to support his documentary. During Inside the Doc, on Tuesday 2nd February from 1.30pm to 2pm, Alex Lee will discuss the film’s background. Meanwhile, here are some FIFO questions and answers.


How did you choose this subject?


The leader of the group came to see me to propose a documentary about her dance group. At the beginning, we just wanted to do a flashmob. But we quickly realised that it wouldn’t be enough. It needed to be explained more clearly: why these elderly people had this need to participate in community life when they were under the impression they no longer played any part. I also think that they wanted to give something back, to give back all that they had received over all these years.


How did you choose your characters?


I spent time observing them to note those who had more exciting stories than others, those who were more relaxed with the camera… The most important was that their story added something to the documentary. We chose mainly women, as they had been important protagonists in the island’s community life: protesting against the Vietnam War, for women’s rights etc. On the island of Waihiki, there are many old people who had been activists. But, these days it has been forgotten that these people fought in their lives to defend causes, we just look at them as old people.


How did the characters react whilst the documentary was being produced?


They were fully engaged and fascinated. I also think they needed to do exercise, to do something with their bodies. When you are old, you need something that pushes, that motivates you in life, because if not there are only two things: waiting for family visits or dying. In the end, I think that they really enjoyed themselves! They also wanted to leave a legacy for the next generations through this documentary. Today, there is a real lack of intergenerational communication.


In this film, are we correct in believing that dance and hip-hop re-establish this link?


Absolutely! Music and dance have created the connection between these two generations. It has enabled an intergenerational junction, involving sharing between two worlds, between these young people from southern Auckland, inhabited mainly by the Maori community, and these inhabitants of the island where white people live primarily. In the end, the young people were impressed and touched by these elderly people who could be their grandfathers or grandmothers. The oldest were enchanted. Moreover, they kept in touch after the film.


Was the objective, the message of the film ultimately to reconnect generations?


We wanted to make a film that was moving but also, yes, to reconnect these generations who no longer speak to each other. I think that we met the challenge. Wherever we broadcast the film in Europe or elsewhere, public reaction was the same; it was universal. Certainly, also, because the film’s message is in itself universal: we talk about love, respect, music and life.


What were the challenges in directing and producing such a film?


There were several! In terms of logistics, we had to go back and forth between Auckland where we are based, and Waihiki. We had to be sure to have taken all the required shots. It wasn’t always evident on a human level either. We were dealing with elderly people who sometimes weren’t in the mood or were simply tired. We had to get on with it. Sometimes, you have to speak louder so as to be heard then other people ask why you are shouting! Some repeated the same story several times in the day. So you have to adapt and be patient! But we were lucky to have a director who knew what to do, and who won and retained their confidence. In the end, he was even considered as their grandson.


FIFO / Suliane Favennec