In an era where most snowboard stories sound the same, Brolin Mawejje makes us stop and take notice. The aspiring Olympian -- he hopes to represent Uganda as a snowboard slopestyle competitor in the 2018 Winter Games -- is also a pre-med student at Westminster College. But his road has not been an easy one. Mawejje first came to America at the age of twelve and he speaks often of “living in fear.” It’s his perseverance in the face of fear that inspired this film -- “Far From Home: Uganda to the Tetons.” We reached out to producer Phil Hessler to learn more about the project. Read on for the Q&A.
StokeLab: Phil, thanks for taking the time to talk about “Far From Home” with us. What is your role in this project?
Phil Hessler: So my role on the film is producer. What this really entails is finding the resources to create a film of this caliber and building the brand and team behind this film. Finding people who are inspired by Brolin's story and helping them see the potential of this film to inspire anyone facing challenges in their own life. It all started with Galen Knowles (director) coming on board. Through our collaborative creation in the early stages of this project, we've brought a team of people together with diverse skill sets that all contribute to creating a film that does justice to Brolin's story. Galen and I also worked closely in developing a production schedule, budget, and fundraising plan which we are executing now. I'm also in charge of our marketing team, making sure that our image and brand are synonymous in all content that is released.
How did you learn about Brolin Mawejje's story? When did you first meet him? What was your first impression?
I've been a part of Brolin's story for close to 9 years now. I first met him upon his immigration from Uganda to the U.S. when he ended up in my 5th grade class. My first impression of Brolin was that he was scared ... he barely spoke a word of English and to say he was experiencing culture shock is an understatement. He really had a hard time adapting to the culture and was also experiencing a lot of troubles at home. Brolin had to grow up quick and raise himself as he really was alone in a foreign world.
Our friendship did not really begin until Brolin joined an afterschool program that would take kids to our local ski hill in Western Mass. Brolin and I became friends through snowboarding and I think that is why he fell in love with it, because snowboarding gave him a sense of belonging and presence. As the years went on, I witnessed Brolin experience more heartbreak but snowboarding always kept him grounded; it became his escape. Seeing him overcome the tragedies and circumstances he was put into -- and get to where he is now and where he plans to go in his life -- has inspired me to share his story.
What do you find so compelling about him? The trailer provides a glimpse of Brolin's character, and you definitely want to learn more.
The most compelling aspect of this story is that hard work has the ability to get you anywhere. Never once in Brolin's life did he feel bad for himself or play the victim. He used his circumstances to motivate himself to work as hard as possible. He learned very young that education was his first key to bettering his life. Whether walking 5 miles to school in Uganda or waking up early enough to catch the bus to go snowboard on the coldest and rainiest days in Western Mass., Brolin saw everyday as a chance to improve himself. Brolin is the most dedicated and hardworking person I know. That is why people started to reach out to him to help achieve his dreams, because they recognized that he was looking for ways to better himself before anyone cared.
Which Olympic event(s) does Brolin hope to compete in at the 2018 Winter Games?
Brolin hopes to compete in slopestyle in the 2018 Olympics. Just witnessing his progression in snowboarding over the past few years has made me believe that he can achieve this dream. His insane work ethic on and off the hill separates him from a lot of other snowboarders. If Brolin was able to get access to better training resources and coaching, I am fully confident that he could achieve his dream.
How can people help support the film project and Brolin's Olympic goals?
Our kickstarter campaign is live right now!! You can access it here at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/farfromhome/far-from-home-uganda-to-the-tetons. All funds go directly to aiding us in our efforts to produce a film that does justice to Brolin's incredible story. We see this film as having to the potential to inspire people from all walks of life to achieve their dreams regardless of what is in their way. We hope to premiere the film at renowned film festivals across the world upon completion. If you have any ideas to help us bring this film to life, we are always looking to collaborate with innovative individuals. You can email me at email@example.com.
[Interview by Mike Horn]