“I started working on this project when I noticed a lack of eldership in my life,” director Stefan Hunt says about the creation of his dance-documentary hybrid short, They Saw The Sun First. The eight-minute film—directed by Hunt, produced by Jess Lowe Chaverri, shot by Cole Graham and choreographed by Vanessa Varghese—pairs dances with recorded conversations of NYC’s elderly, an unexpectedly synchronous combination.
He continues, “I realized that nearly all the ‘life advice’ I was consuming on social media / podcasts / newsletters was from younger people. And I asked myself the question, ‘Where are the voices of our elders?’ With that question in mind, I began interviewing aging New Yorkers about life, death and everything in-between.”
The first recording in the voiceover unfurls as a score by artist French Kiwi Juice (aka FKJ) fades in. “Dear young people, oh boy, you have a lot on your plate. You have a lot on your plate because the biggest job you can have is getting old,” the voice of an older woman explains. “When I was young, I thought I knew everything. But I found out I didn’t know everything. Dumbest kid in the world. I think I’m still the dumbest kid in the world,” another professes. These audio files set the tone for the dance scenes; each, choreographed for the voice that plays over it, furthers the message, amplifying its most profound points through gestural movement.
“I can only describe this experience as truly life-changing,” Hunt says in a statement accompanying the release. “I get chills thinking back to it. With these recorded gems of wisdom I set out with an incredible team to create a film that speaks to the youth of today.” He hopes the captured quotes provide some sort of reassurance or inspiration for the life ahead of those watching—perhaps it reintroduces them to the vibrancy of everyday life.
“If you keep looking backwards, you may miss what’s in front of us. Human beings have got an opportunity to participate in the greatest show on Earth,” an older man named John explains in the short. His words resonate deeply, as if he was speaking directly to the viewer.
Isolated, each recorded quote hits home, but compounded with the contemporary choreography, the messaging proves even more effective. The juxtaposition between the youthful dancers and the wise voices encourages viewers to appreciate the individuality of each party, drawing similarities between the two.
The film ends with the same face in the first frame: a young woman, short of breath, gazing at the beach before her. The sun, rising over the resting waters, harkens back to the title, a portion of the widely circulated proverb: “Old people’s speech is not to be dishonored—after all, they saw the sun first.”
Images courtesy of Stefan Hunt