2017 GAP recipient Abigail Hagan of Seattle is a videographer, editor, documentary filmmaker, and photographer. Her work focuses on social justice, travel, dance, food accessibility, homelessness, immigration, and poverty.
With hopes of pursuing a career as an editor and documentary filmmaker, Abigail moved to Seattle in June 2016 and has been proactive in searching for artistic opportunities in her new community. “I learned about Artist Trust through the Next Stage program that I participated in at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center,” says Abigail. “I have felt very welcomed by the Seattle arts community and am very excited to be living in a city that offers so many opportunities for artists from all walks of life.”
Abigail’s project “Wall of Complacency” is a short, partially-animated documentary that shares the personal stories of several immigrant and refugee communities in her hometown of Houston, Texas. The film demonstrates Texas’ diversity and nuanced culture while exploring topics of immigration, refugee resettlement, and human rights.
“I’m from Texas, and I started this project at the time when Governor Greg Abbott claimed that he was going to ban all Syrian refugees from Texas. Many of my non-Texan friends believed that Texas was extremely xenophobic, but I tried to defend my home, the city of Houston in particular, and express to them how culturally diverse and welcoming the city is,” explains Abigail. “This is what started the ‘Wall of Complacency’ project, for which I interviewed city officials, lawyers, healthcare workers, and immigrants from all over the globe. While I can’t speak from an immigrant’s perspective, I can speak as a proud Houstonian, and I hope that this piece provided a medium for oft-underrepresented individuals to share their stories.”
We asked Abigail a few questions about her projects and artistic practice.
Tell us more about the overall experience of producing “Wall of Complacency”?
The overall experience was wonderful, though admittedly exhausting at times. I completed this film from start to finish as the shooter, interviewer, transcriber, fundraiser, writer, and editor. Through this process I experienced innumerable great moments, but here are my top three.
Number one would be having had the opportunity to speak with individuals about their experiences in such an intimate way. All of the film’s interviewees were exorbitantly generous about sharing their stories with a complete stranger. My very first interview for this film was with a Bhutanese immigrant named Bhakti, who spoke uninterrupted for an hour after I posed only one question. His story chronicled everything from living in refugee camps in Nepal, to being held in solitary confinement for 36 months, to raising sons in the US. Speaking with these individuals was a joy and an incredible learning experience.
The second most memorable aspect of producing this film was the amazing support and encouragement from the City of Houston and the University of Houston that I received. City officials and professors were willing to speak on camera for this project, and everyone was very passionate about the possibility to share some of Houston’s rich diversity.
What were some of the best moments for you as an artist?
Another wonderful aspect of working on this film was the opportunity to collaborate with stop-motion animator Lisa Jake. Lisa and I met at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival, and over the course of a year collaborated on this piece, which was my first experience producing a film with animated content. Filmmaking can often be a very solitary endeavor, and it was wonderful to be able to create art with a friend. She was also an invaluable ally during the fundraising process. Lisa is currently in the UK working on a Master’s in documentary animation.
In your opinion, how well can films and photography highlight issues like social justice and break stereotypes?
I believe that visual media has a unique opportunity to share stories cross-culturally that can expose audiences to people unlike themselves. I would argue that the onus to break stereotypes is not necessarily on the filmmaker, but rather the audience. This may vary by artist, but my current personal philosophy is that my role is to create diverse, thought-provoking pieces that are palatable to many audiences. I want to challenge audiences (native born Americans in particular) and help expose them to the many obstacles that immigrants and other minority groups face. I also hope that, after viewing this film, audiences grasp the fact that immigrants and refugees face very similar challenges and life experiences as native-born US citizens do.
What is your next project about?
I am in the early stages of producing a documentary on the subject of chronic nightmares and related mental illnesses. I have suffered from chronic nightmares since childhood, and am making this film as a way to explore the topic and hopefully remove some of the stigma surrounding sleep disorders. I am currently seeking medical professionals and nightmare sufferers to interview on camera about this subject. If anyone is interested in participating, I can be reached at email@example.com.
Pooja Galgali is a content specialist from Mill Creek, Washington. She is passionate about art, digital marketing strategies, and research. She is interested in being associated with organizations that promote art and appreciate individual creativity.