Interview with ‘High On Heels’ filmmaker Adelin Gasana
Rwandan-American filmmaker Adelin Gasana has been making documentaries ever since his freshman year of college, though he originally fell in love with the film genre in high school. Now, for a decade, Gasana has been amassing professional experience in both television and film, where he has honed talents in all stages of production from concept to completion. He’s done work in various industries including broadcast news, promotional videos, reality television, and more.
Gasana’s documentary work focuses on current social, political, historical, and cultural issues. His previous documentary topics have hit on subjects such as how history is taught, Cuban Diaspora in Miami, existentialism, and now high heels with his new documentary High On Heels – currently available to watch on both Amazon and YouTube.
We happily found ourselves with the opportunity to ask Adelin Gasana a few questions about his new documentary and his career overall – here’s what he had to say.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest documentary High On Heels?
High On Heels is a documentary short that explores the shoe[s] women come to experience. In 45-minutes the film examines the high-heeled shoe from A to Z exploring the symbolic, health, and lifestyle experience women of all backgrounds go through with heels in their everyday lives.
It’s voiced in an open and honest discussion with shoe designers, stylists, dancers, models, fashion bloggers, influencers, educators, doctors, and everyday women.
What inspired you to make High On Heels?
Initially, I ventured out to do a film about a mainstream, pop culture topic. So, when my producer Lola Kayode and I talked about her personal experience of back pain associated with wearing heels on a regular long-term basis we thought high heels would make for an interesting subject for a short documentary.
So, this film began as a cool topic of style critique and fashion intrigue. But a couple of months into production, after a deep dive in research and conducting multiple interviews, the topic gradually evolved into a nuanced subject highlighting the varying experiences of women’s lifestyle and personal expression. Such fascination led to an in-depth look into this stylish accessory that the general public sees all the time but doesn’t put too much thought into.
Is there anything you want people to know before watching High On Heels or to think about while watching the documentary?
This film will certainly enlighten viewers’ perspective on a popular shoe item that we all take for granted, but treat as ancillary to special events or outings. As the director I want people to get a feel of the same fascination I had in my film journey documenting heels – the nuance, symbolism, history, and health factors that come with wearing heels. Who knew a high-heeled shoe could invoke such a rich historical, societal, medical, and pop cultural discussion?
You’ve worked on a number of documentaries, was there anything that made the production of High On Heels different?
This particular documentary was propelled through the collaboration of a solid team that I helped lead creatively and in sync. With my past projects I would often work with 2 or 3 people at the most – with me doing most of the grunt work from concept to completion. I am proud of High On Heels for the fact that I collaborated with a smart, focused, and talented team in all the phases of production.
What made High On Heels an important story for you to tell?
High heels are an experience for women. Today, heels have come to represent many things for many women like beauty, sexuality, sophistication, empowerment, maturity, style, and professionalism. This dynamic has such a rich historical and cultural narrative to tell. I believe a conversation on society’s beauty standards to women’s pressure to look good and the health factors associated with looking good are important discussions to have and to listen to.
What do you personally think about high heels? Did making the documentary change your opinion at all?
As a straight man I enjoy watching women wear high heels. There’s a subtle attraction for guys seeing a woman in heels whether it’s the walk, the elongated legs, or simply the stylish colors and texture that goes along with a given outfit. My attraction hasn’t changed with my documentary work on this subject matter.
However, I am far more appreciative and understanding now on what women have to go through in wearing heels and getting dressed up. Just knowing a bit more about the pain factor was enough for me. As a straight man taking on a topic that is wholly a woman’s item I was simply a fly on the wall in producing this piece. Kind of like being on the outside looking in.
From that vantage point I was able to bring a more objective approach to examining comprehensively high heel shoes. This documentary literally speaks for itself. Meaning that the women interviewed were open, honest, and frank about all things heels – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Moreover, since sexuality and seeking attraction to the opposite sex plays a part in women wearing heels men have a[n] underlooked role in the ongoing evolution of high heels.
After all, arguably the top 3 high heel shoe entrepreneurs in the past half-century have been men – Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, and Steve Madden. Plus, high heel shoes as both a fashion statement and symbolism of power and intrigue actually began with men centuries ago.
Tell us about your career before you found filmmaking.
That’s an interesting question. I cannot say that there was really a career before filmmaking. I was making indie films since my freshman year in college out of my dorm room. This was even before I worked on assigned school projects. I started off as an unofficial student filmmaker if that makes sense.
I fell in love with the genre of documentaries a little before that – in my junior year in high school. A buddy and I snuck into a movie theatre to watch Tupac Resurrection, the acclaimed biopic on the famous rapper. I walked out of there thinking: “I don’t know what I just saw, but whatever it is I want to do that for the rest of my life.”
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. How did you start your journey?
I began as a sagacious student filmmaker in college where I worked on over two dozen film and video projects. Once I graduated I worked on my first feature – Cuban America, a documentary film about the Cuban Diaspora and its impact on the Greater Miami region for the past half-century.
It took me 2 ½ years to finish that movie from concept to completion. After that, I was employed at a black-owned entertainment media company to help them complete a dozen documentary titles in a 3 – 5 year span. So, I worked on films about black megachurches, the big butt craze, single black mothers, gun violence in Chicago, and interracial dating.
A little before High On Heels I worked as an archival researcher and clearance personnel for a big bio-doc entitled Maynard, a biopic on Atlanta’s first black mayor – Maynard Jackson.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I am pretty much creative in everything I do – from cooking and fashion to exercising and traveling. I am enthralled in information and getting in-depth on a topic. What inspires me to start a documentary film project on my own is taking on the nuance and the gray aspect of a topic, whether it’s a popular, mainstream topic like high heels or something not so mainstream like black comic book superheroes. My creative process is guided by thinking outside the box and seeking new or untold perspectives. Creativity flourishes on a new discovery.
Who are your current filmmaking influences?
As a film buff the timeless classics of Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, and Akira Kurosawa are always high on my list. Along the way, John Singleton, the Cohen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Jordan Peele, Raoul Peck, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Richard Linklater have shaped and molded me.
As a self-professed documentary film junkie I watch them all from PBS Frontline and ESPN 30 For 30 to Netflix and HBO originals. No good documentary film (or series) passes my eyeballs. Current documentary filmmakers I always keep an eye on are the A-listers: Ken Burns, Alex Gibney, Jonathan Hock, Morgan Neville, Andrew Rossi, Stanley Nelson, Jehane Noujaim, Ezra Edelman, Liz Garbus and my personal favorite – Errol Morris. They have all been influential figures for me over the years.
What part of filmmaking excites you the most?
I enjoy directing the most because it is a job that is propelled by inspiration, creativity and leadership. A person in the director chair cannot underachieve. You are motivated to do your best each and every day; each and every moment.
For documentary filmmaking in particular I greatly enjoy the research phase – taking on a broad topic and taking it apart one fact, one detail at a time. Researching can be anything from scouring through card catalogs in a library collection or sitting with a potential interviewee over coffee just listening. Being a fly-on-the-wall by stepping into another person’s or organization’s world makes documentary films the thing to see.
Minds literally open up before you when you deliver such nuanced expression and complex details in a lucid way in visual-spatial form. Research also helps a film team navigate through access – something more important than funding in documentary filmmaking.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
It is not easy at all to wear all the hats. I would professionally, if not personally, recommend that you do not try to do everything in a film production. One, a person generally isn’t good at everything. So, while you may be a good director you may not be a great cinematographer. While you may be a decent researcher/interviewer you may not be a great location scout. Or while you may be a great producer you may not be a great editor.
Everything and everyone has its place for a reason. A second reason I recommend young filmmakers to not put everything on their shoulder[s] is that you will easily get burned out and you do not want to get burned out in your passion, something that you love. I started off wearing all the hats, but out of necessity. I have great passion when pursuing creative endeavors, but not always the financial means to get it done.
Over time I learned to build a team through inspiration and motivation. This allowed people to play a part in my creative pursuits one project, one detail, and one phase at a time.
Are you able to tell us about any of your upcoming project(s)? What are they?
I am currently writing and co-producing a piece on black comic book superheroes. Right after this documentary I will be co-producing two documentaries on prominent black political leaders. Down the road I am greatly inspired to complete a documentary film on gentrification.
Do you have any tips for people looking to begin a career in filmmaking?
One of my favorite quotes comes from a filmmaker colleague of mine: “Find a good story. Don’t fuck it up.” My essential tips for a filmmaking career is to read. Read. Read. And, read some more. Absorb all the critical, analytical information you can get on your hands. It’ll help guide you and inspire your path. Not just for future documentarians like myself, but all film genres worth pursuing. Don’t be myopic in your views and perspective of society and the world. Be a forever student.
Another piece of advice I can give is to not try but do. Just do it. Don’t wait on anybody or anything else to get you going. The timing will never be perfect to begin a project – big or small – but, it is vital that your start. And, please finish your projects – don’t remain a potential filmmaker who only has teasers and trailers to put in their highlight reel.
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
My filmmaking mission statement is: “Facts no commentary”. I am inspired that my journey as a film artist is to deliver documentary narratives by being a fly-on-the-wall with little to no commentary to add. I am confident that a great story tells itself. It speaks and enlightens for itself. Great visuals coupled with great sound and a creative way to deliver a story is enough. With documentaries – less is more.
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Miriam Makeba “Mama Africa”.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
My favorite narrative film of all time is The Seventh Seal. This Ingmar Bergman classic was the greatest visual portrait of existentialism. I learned the power of dialogue, subtlety used effectively as a creative expression in art, setting your scenes up and nuance as an important build in story structure.
My favorite documentary film of all time is Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls. With this film I learned how important it is to simply be a fly-on-the-wall in allowing a narrative to flow and the importance of emotion and realism in covering a given topic while disseminating information and details.
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
Other than me, of course – I would look out for what Lucky Strike Films Studio is doing out there in LA. Kiara B. is on her way. Jabari Payne is a talented Atlanta director to keep an eye out for. Of course, Lola Kayode, my producer-partner on High On Heels. I am also a big fan of Robert Morgalo and Outhouse Production Films and what they have lined up.
What’s your five-year plan?
In the near future, I am aiming to work on more relevant stories here in the U.S.. particularly on gentrification, gun culture, and race/class relations. I have been putting some things into writing and look forward soon to collaborating with the right minds and talents – in both the fields of journalism and film.
My big picture plans down the road is to make documentaries across the world – specifically in Africa. Expanding my reach in the U.S. I hope to be a bridge for the voiceless and the marginalized in the so-called Third World.
In this supreme goal, I plan to work in raising awareness on unique stories for Western audiences, educate viewers on what’s going on throughout the world, and inform people on relevant issues happening now – particularly in the environment and economics.
And finally, an easy one, cats or dogs?
Cats because they have their own style and need very-little-to-no supervision or taming.
If you’d like to stay up-to-date with Adelin Gasana and his work, be sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter, or visit his website. You can also learn more about High On Heels by checking out its Facebook page.