ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: HAJR AVANT (BA ’18) Nov 14, 2019

What class/professor impacted you the most and why?

It’s hard to really choose one particular class or professor that had the most impact because for me, all of them impacted me in unique and meaningful ways. If I had to narrow it down there I would say that CINE 200 was the most impactful. We had working professionals come in and talk about their jobs and discuss the kinds of projects they’ve worked on and the experiences that they have had. I liked that it gave us different perspectives of departments that we may not have very much exposure to in the program.

Tell us about your first real job out of Cinema/What was your first real job like?

My first real job outside of cinema was working on Harriet the feature that came to Richmond. The beginning of the project is kind of a blur because I was in the middle of making plans to move down to Atlanta. I had a week left on my lease and a Production Coordinator friend of mine asked me if I wanted to work a week in the production office on a project with her, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m here for one more week, I might as well finish off my time in Richmond working’ and so I said yes. When I found out what the story was about I knew that I had to stay and work that whole show. Luckily it was so early in preproduction that the crew was still being staffed and I was able to move over from production to art department, which is what I was really interested in. We had our fair share of crazy moments what with the tornado that came through Richmond during the workday resulting in all of us being sequestered to one hallway in the office, to having to drive two hours to get dirt samples of some of the locations for the Costume Designers to compare his fabrics to, all of the rain and mud, and many many more wild moments. I still feel so blessed to have been able to work on such an important piece of art, and being given the chance to work with such incredible people. For me, it was truly an affirming experience, I wanted to be a part of this industry in order to work on projects that aimed to tell stories that would change peoples’ perspectives, and expose them to experiences that they may not have been privy to otherwise. And the fact that I was able to do that right after graduating from school is remarkable to me. I met incredibly talented and kind people learned so so much, and got a kitten from the project. So, all in all, and a pretty great win.

What was your lightbulb moment in Cinema, when you realized this is what you want to do for the rest of your life?

The moment that I remember the most vividly is walking down the hallway by myself in Pollak after my first day at workshops, and smiling stupid big with tears in my eyes. Before that day I had never been able to use the equipment that we had available to us in Cinema, let alone knowing that that stuff actually existed in the first place. For me that day signified that beginning of converging of me wanting to go into the TV/Film industry to the possibility of it actually happening for me. It felt like the beginning of something new and exciting and unknown, and I was stoked. 

What was the most valuable thing you learned from Cinema/what do you think prepared you the most for the real world?

I think one of the most valuable things that I learned from Cinema is how to work with different kinds of personalities. You’re not always going to get along with other people in the production. So I learned ways of interacting with people I either did not get along with or I disagreed with while being able to maintain an air of professionalism. It’s a skill that I implement in my work life as well as my life outside of work.

Was there a film you watched in Cine Club, Cinematheque, etc. that impacted your style as a filmmaker?

The two films that I can think of that really affected me, that I still think of to this day are Hunger by Steve McQueen and Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Two very different films. However, there is a beautiful similarity between the two that shows the individual’s very personal struggle to control powers that seem beyond them. There are a few fascinating experimental parts that capture the audience’s attention in a way that pulls them in and invests them even further into the storyline and the characters. I admire the impeccable and artful storytelling by the two directors. 

What is your double major/double minor and how have they helped you in the real world?

My second major was Sociology. It hasn’t so much informed my work-life per se since I don’t really write, or direct. However, my background in Sociology does very much inform the way that I interact with other people. It makes me more empathetic and think more about people’s backgrounds during our interactions. I think it just made me a more conscientious and aware person. 

What department(s) did you focus on in Cinema and what department(s) do you work in now?

When I first began in Cinema my logistical mind lent itself to production, however, the more time I spent in the program I realized that I wanted to play a greater role in the creative process so I transitioned to working more in camera and art department. I appreciate very much the roles that the two play in creating the art of film, and I am still trying to figure out which I feel suits me the best. Once you are out of school it’s a scary thought not knowing exactly what you want to do, and having a plan for the exact route that you will take to get there. So right now even though I don’t have that exact road figured out, my main focus is to absorb as many things/information/art as humanly possible. Whether that be a new skill or hobby, or binging the entire filmography of a new filmmaker that I admire. Both ways I am informing myself and growing as an artist.

How did the skills you learned in Cinema help you in your line of work now?

One thing that Cinema and I think college in general really teaches a person is how to work with others. It may sound like a corny line, but there is a lot if truth in it. In the Cinema program, you run into so many different types of personalities and temperaments, and as a result, it really does prepare you for the real world. So other than the somewhat given skills that I would learn in a film program like Cinema, I also learned to stand up for myself and my art, which is so important to be able to do as a creative person. There are very few people who will understand and relate to one’s work in the same way that the artist themselves does, so being able to live with that, and grow with that is imperative.  I learned ways of effectively communicating in difficult situations with individuals who don’t seem to want to give me the time of day. These are not skills that I saw myself gaining when I decided to go to an art school, however, unbeknownst to me I was learning and polishing skills that I hope will take me far in the future.

What’s your favorite summer intensive memory?

I think the moments that I remember most from summer intensives were the ones where it seemed that everything that could go wrong does go wrong. One particular time that comes to mind was during my last summer when we were filming La Cocina de Rosalina. Things on set were moving right along when all of a sudden the sky turned an ominous shade of gray and started pouring down sheets of rain. I was a dolly grip, so me and all of the other G&E crew ran outside and started pulling down all of our lights and anything that would have gotten wrecked by the rain. What’s worse is that one of the grip trucks had died and so even though the rest of the production called it a day, G&E had to stay behind, and because I was one of the only two of us who were certified to drive the truck, I definitely wasn’t going anywhere. After about 45 minutes, and many questionable attempts to jump-start the battery in the rain, not to mention being completely soaked to the core, a tow truck eventually came to our rescue. It was by far one of the most exhausting days of the summer intensives that year, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know for sure it is a memory that I will cherish for years to come.
We’re so proud of our alums and what they’re doing outside of the Cinema Program! Hajr was an amazing presence within the Cinema family and is now she’s killing it as an Art Department PA on Netflix’s Insatiable!