HIFF HANA HOU Spotlight: Q&A with Aniston Eyre, Director of Audience Winner WAGON

WAGON, a documentary feature directed by Maui-born and raised Aniston Eyre, received the HIFF40 Documentary Audience Award. This is significant because Eyre is the first student filmmaker to win the award in the Festival’s 40 years. Now 19, Eyre is currently attending Columbia University (remotely from Maui because of the pandemic). We recently sat down with Eyre about her inspirations for the film and her filmmaking process.
Has road tripping/long car rides always been a large part of your childhood?

We’ve taken a road trip every summer that I can remember, and they’ve always been in a car that runs off vegetable oil (usually an 80’s mercedes station wagon which my dad will buy at the beginning of the trip and sell at the end). The summer I made “Wagon” was our longest US road trip, as they usually only span a couple weeks and have remained in the Western states. The only trip that could compare to this one in terms of length and ground covered is a 4 month road trip we took around Europe in 2015, also done in veggie-oil g-wagons.

So in short, yes, road trips have been a pretty big part of our childhood! I think it has been a great use of summers as we’ve grown up as it lets us break away from the routine of the school year and grow closer as a family. Every year has been different: we always have different locations to hit, varying car capacity (especially as my siblings and I have grown and need more leg room), and a multitude of different mechanical problems, but the cross-country road trip I documented in “Wagon” to me served as a test of our road tripping abilities in a way (haha). It also was a last hurrah as it was the summer before I left home for college, so naturally, we had to up the adventure.

Would you say there were any cool things you learned from the ride? What are some values your parents hope to instill in you guys through this trip and previous ones?  

Since this trip was such an extreme version of things we were used to in our typical road trips (car break downs, bad nights’ sleeps, inconsistent meals), I feel we were able to not only endure but enjoy the road trip a little more. On top of learning how to deal with crammed spaces and loud noises, I think my siblings and I have figured out in our own ways how to be patient with setbacks in life. I, for example, am pretty plan-oriented, so road trips were hard for me when I started developing that trait in my early teens. Road tripping has helped me with this immensely: A scene specifically from Wagon that is special to me is in Buffalo Bills, when we couldn’t find anywhere to camp due to horrible phone service. The beautiful wildflower meadow campground (near the Platte river) that we ended up finding that evening was a reminder to me of how a lot of the best things in life aren’t planned, and I strive to remember that, especially in the uncertainty this past year has thrown at us!

As for my parents, I think they just really like to travel. I think they enjoy the trips as much if not more than we do, but I think some of the things they want us to learn through these trips are troubleshooting, patience, and frugal traveling habits, all of which I am super grateful for and will use throughout my life! I know my siblings all have different memories of the trips and learn different things about themselves, but that’s the thing about road trips: there’s something for everyone!

What was the inspiration behind your family’s decision to purchase this G-Wagon that runs on vegetable fuel? 

Ever since I can remember, my dad has been doing vegetable oil conversions on older cars, mostly 80s Mercedes. My dad (Jonah) loves to constantly find things that need to be fixed and figure out how to do so, so he has a genuine passion for owning these kinds of cars, no matter the mechanical issues they present. He also is a strong believer in sustainable living, especially fixing old things of high quality rather than buying new things, meaning he seeks out to both fix up engines in old cars, but also reuse oil from restaurants that would otherwise go to waste. It’s a lifestyle that takes work, but my dad has been a great example of how great a thing hard work is. This shines through in his persistence to run older cars on vegetable oil, but also in how he parents and helps the family grow, and I’m so grateful for it!

In terms of Wagon, my dad kept an eye out for G-wagons in Europe months before our trip began, since that is where they are cheapest to buy in the best condition (which he had learned about during our 2015 Europe trip). He then flew out to find the car that would become the Wagon. It was no luxurious trip though: he shared pictures with us of all the crazy places he slept (including the airport floor) and new friends he made in order to make the purchase and shipment possible. Even after the car got to the US, we had problems such as getting a travel permit. So again, it’s a lot of work, but my dad’s dedication to not only a hobby but a lifestyle is really inspiring to me!

Moving forward, what types of stories are you interested in telling through film? 

I’d say my dream job is to be a independent travel filmmaker, focusing on beauty of culture and different means of sustainability. Some ideas I have for the present moment are doing some more in-depth shorts of my family’s lifestyle, and also a documentary on thrifting, as my friend and I recently started a clothing resale business on Instagram (@5_dollar_thrift) promoting recycling of clothes through purchasing good quality second-hand clothing rather than buying new clothing and things all the time. I really look forward to finishing a degree in Film at Columbia University, but I am hoping to complete projects throughout college that will launch and get me excited for my career!

Watch or re-watch all of the award winners from the 40th Hawai‘i International Film Festival at HIFF HANA HOU (January 6-10, available online and nationwide). Buy your all-access pass for only $25.

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