When not traveling to far-flung places to shoot the documentaries he's reknowned for, film maker Dustin Lynn calls NYC home. He's acclaimed for his cinematography and art direction work with musician Jack Johnson, as well as for his beautiful short films, such as "Tranquil Music," about the summery musical vibe in a pre 9/11 NYC, "The Half Way Tree," a tale of Jamaican surfing made with Dan Malloy, "Oxfam Make Trade Fair," documenting Minnie Driver's trip to Cambodia to raise awareness on sweat shop labor. Ever the observant adventurer, Dustin is now involved in the Adventure Ecology expedition series. (Cool Hunting has featured several artists that have shown at The Gallery run by Adventure Ecology in London here and here.) Dustin was invited by AE founder David de Rothschild to join the creative field mission team, whose members also include photographers Ollie Chanarin and Adam Broomberg of Chopped Liver and artist Gabriel Orozco. The Adventure Ecology Mission series, ARTiculate, aims to raise awareness of environmental issues around the world through creative media.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Dustin in Quito, Ecuador when the Adventure Ecology team visited last month for the Toxico Mission. We discussed how he got into film, his inspirations and the collaborative experience of the Adventure Ecology mission. You can find out more about Dustinâ€™s work at Blachrome and see his reel here.
Dustin, how did you get into film making?
I bought a 16mm camera when I was 19 or so off eBay and I decided I wanted to start making films. I went to New York and made a short film, "Tranquil Music," about my brother who's a DJ in the city. It was the first film I ever made, it was about 10 minutes long. I looked on the internet for film festivals, I thought maybe I'd try and send it in, I really had no clue what I was doing. I found out later that I was loading the camera wrong the whole time! But, I got the film back and I couldn't believe it, it just looked great. It felt like I didn't even shoot it.
A natural, as they say!
Well, so I found the Tribeca film festival on the internet. It was the first one they were doing. I shot the movie a couple of weeks before 9/11â€”it was a really nice summer before that happened, beautiful things going on. We went to a lot of outdoor parties, with my brother deejaying, lots of really good vibes in the city, people dancing. There was a unity there that got destroyed after 9/11â€”it's different city now. The Tribeca film festival started up to rejuvenate that area, I sent the film in and before I knew it I was sitting across the table at lunch with De Niro and Scorcese.
Are you serious?
Yeah! My film opened the festival.
And Scorcese just called you up?
That must have been an interesting meeting?
It was! De Niro didn't say much. He would just smile and nod a lot, and I would smile and nod back.
And what was the next project after that? Did you work with Scorcese?
No, not yet!
But the next project I did was with friends of mine: the musician Jack Johnson and the Malloy brothers, who are surfers and friends of Jack's as well. It's kinda the crew of friends I hung around with in California. Jack and Chris Malloy started making surf movies a long time ago. The first film they did was called "Thicker Than Water." I had an idea to go to Jamaica, I wanted to make a little surf documentary down there. So Dan and I went to Jamaica together and winged it. We didn't really have a plan. We lived in Kingston for a month. We stayed with a Rasta family down there, who were part of the only surf community in Jamaica.
After editing that short film ["The Half way Tree"] another friend called me, Minnie Driver, and asked me if I wanted to go to Cambodia to film her Make Trade Fair trip for Oxfam. She was going over there to support the Womenâ€™s Agenda for Change. That was a couple of years ago. Then Dan Malloy emailed to say would I like to come to Ecuador to see the Jamaican Rasta family who had traveled here for a surf competition. So for the last couple of years I feel like I've been working on projects all the time which are just interweaving, they're cohesive, they are all the sameâ€”when you look at my reel and see all the different pieces, somehow they all fit together.
Those are all my own projects in a way, but I've also been working with Jack Johnson as a creative director and editor and cinematographer. I just did the last cover for the soundtrack, A Broke Down Melody.
What's your latest project?
I just finished a project for Kruder and Dorfmeister, a music video filmed in New York. It's a very different piece from anything Iâ€˜ve ever done, very dark, very sexual, very Jean Nouvelâ€”like a dream story.
Do you think of yourself as having a style?
I think I do have a style, but I think I could quote Martin Scorcese and say "I copy good people/" I think my style definitely caters to a more European sensibility.
Even the surf movies?
Yeah even the surf movies. They way they are filmed, they're not like traditional pump you up surf movies, they're more sensitive, you know I am a sensitive arty boy!
I've always responded to nature. If you watch my footage I always like to create loops, the goal is to create the infinite shot, maybe it's a 30-second shot, but it can loop forever. So I'd be on Boston beach in Jamaica and I'd set up a frame that would just sit there on the beach and you could watch it for eternity.
Initially what I was really into was to just let time pass as it does. When you have this cut it up mentality, this MTV sort of thing, it's really just distraction for lack of content. When you let things drive a little longer, you make people start to think a little. It creates an intrigue, a strange intrigue. You want to watch it again because you don't know why you are not agreeing with it. At the same time itâ€™s really pretty so you can't really stop watching it.
A director which really influenced me was Michelangelo Antonioniâ€”of Blow Up and The Passenger. I discovered his movies after I did my third short film, and I was like, oh my god we have the same frames and similar shotsâ€”it was bizarre.
So did you study film at school or did you just pick up this camera?
No I never went to school, I attempted to go to a community college film class, but I never really agreed with school. I traveled a lot as a kid, I lived in like nine different states before I was 14. I was born in San Francisco, I just grew up with my mother, she was very nomadic and would move a lot without having a job. But it wasn't like, 'We're in San Francisco, letâ€™s move to Monterrey.' It was like, 'Let's move to Florida!' So we zig zagged coast to coast all the time.
So school was pretty difficult for you since you moved around so much?
Yeah, I would get pulled out of school quite a bit and we were on road trips all the time in the car, so by the time I got to high school age I really became very bored with school. I became a mute, you know I'd been staring out the window of the car for years and years and yearsâ€”just kinda daydreaming. So I just ended up daydreaming in school all day long, locked in this world, I never raised my hand, I never did any homework.
Do you think watching all that scenery go by influenced you? Do you make that connection with your film making?
Of Course! Of course. A lot of the first stuff I did I was shooting out of car windows.
Have you been filming here in Ecuador in this distinctive slow-paced style?
Itâ€™s changing a little actually, stylistically I feel like before I would do things more from a child's perspective, maybe because I was younger, but for this, in order to capture the audience that we would like, it needs to be a bit more modern. I think it will have a little bit of the older stylistics that I would use, but it will definitely be modernized, more off the cuff and free.
What has the experience been like, here in Ecuador, working with all these different creative people?
Well, that was the coolest thing working with Gabriel, Adam and Ollie, everybody was just so free. You watch these guys work and it's unbelievable. You know Gabriel finds a piece of grass and he starts dunking it in some ink and making prints with the leaves instantly.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Griffler.
That was the most difficult part for me, I just wanted to watch everyone work, I really want to see what everyone is doing at a certain time. For example, Ollie and Adam are doing these beautiful portraits over here and then I look over the field and Gabriel is picking a fruit on the tree and I'm like, oh he's about to do something interestingâ€¦
What is David de Rothschild's role within this creative group?
Well, he's the leader, Captain Kirk! He's the vehicle for all of us. He's a film maker and a survivalist! It was very freeing because there was no ego between anyone.
Do you think that is something natural within in the characters in the group or was it because everyone has their own medium they're working in?
Well everyone was doing different things, but the real key is David got us all together and he definitely picked the right personalities that work together.
From an ecology point of view what has been your impression of Ecuador? Was it as disastrous a scene as you expected?
It's pretty similar to what I expected. With the oil company, when we went to Repsol it was very expected what we would see there. I knew they would pretend to show us things. There's an image that sums everything up as far as that goes: We ate lunch with all the workers in their cafeteria, but I wasn't very hungry so I just took my camera out. I wanted to get a shot of the flame (burning off the crude oil impurities and the natural gas) so I walked down there, right past two military guys with machine guns playing foosball. You know they had planted this massive tree right next to the tower of the flame, and it was the most ironic thing I've ever seen, so I took this picture of this tower and this tree. The tree was alive, but it looked so new that it looked fake. You know, the whole thing, it was just this theatrical game.
So that is an important image, which you'll see in the film. It was very very strange and yet expected. Nothing was unexpected on this trip except for how brilliantly everyone worked together. And how great it was to be with Gabriel, Ollie, Adam, David and Maria [the ethno biologist on the team].
It sounds like Gabriel is the guru of the group?
Yes he is definitely the guru, he's not only the oldest of the group, but he's so well respected and he's so brilliant. You know he's very famous, but it's really great when you can meet people who you are a fan of and find that they are really humble. He's just incredibly humble. From day one you know, he was sitting in the grass near the oil pit and I was walking around looking at the oil pipes and he was like, "Dustin come over here and look at this." His feet are almost touching the oil and he takes a stone a drops it into the oil. The oil slowly engulfs this rock, there were no ripples, the oil just grabbed it and sucked it in. So then we just did this whole sequence of pebbles going into the oil. That was him working and that was us working together. We didn't talk much about it, we'd just do it and that was it. It was almost like this silent communication, we both understood what each other could do and it was the same with Ollie and Adam.
What was the most rewarding part of the Adventure Ecology mission?
It was really a pleasure for me, because I am the youngest out of all these guys and I really feel like a novice in a lot of ways. I still to this day feel like I don't really know what I am doing. I mean I've done a lot of movies, but I always go out with that feeling of I never really know what's going to happen.
You know I never went to school, which is a good thing. There's something kind of weird about being in the same room as everyone who does the same thing or is attempting to do the same thing. I never really liked that, it feels uncomfortable; maybe because I already knew what I had and what I was going to capture. The first few years of filming I sincerely felt that it wasn't really me who was taking these pictures. It was like a kind of subconscious thing going on. Just because I didn't feel like I even had the chops to be holding this camera. You know like the months before (my first film) I was cracking pepper in a restaurant, I was a back waiter. So I feel really really lucky to be involved in this project. It's a dream come true.