Arts

After Andover: Documentary Filmmaker Robin Hessman ’90 Applies Lessons from Andover and Experiences in Russia to Career

 

Courtesy of Robin Hessman

As a documentary filmmaker and producer, Robin Hessman ’90 has attended film school in Russia, produced a Russian version of “Sesame Street,” and created a number of documentary films. In 1994, Hessman earned a Student Academy Award for her work directing “Portrait of Boy with Dog” alongside James Longley ’90. Hessman cites taking Andover photography courses as one of the main influences that shaped her passion for film.

“I took a lot of photography classes and was very interested in visual imagery. I knew that I couldn’t paint, but I liked putting frames around things that already existed and being forced to look at them in a different way when you were freezing them and framing them,” said Hessman.

At Andover, Hessman also participated in theater. She credits the Department of Theatre and Dance for helping her develop skills that would become relevant to her professional career. 

“The utter freedom to create and the fact that we were given full autonomy to do everything, solve all the problems on our own, and have to manage all the aspects of putting on a show… Those kinds of multi-task projects that are both creative and practical, [where you] have so many problems to solve and with a big team to manage that, are absolutely experiences I have taken with me into my work today,” said Hessman.

Hessman found herself uninspired during her first term at college, so she left to study abroad in Russia for the next semester, her junior year, and her senior year. After graduating from Brown University with a dual degree in film and art, she attended film school in Russia. 

“[Going to Russia] was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I ended up living in Russia for almost a decade, which is not what I had planned, but it is something that is incomparable and world-expanding and mind-expanding,” said Hessman. 

When she began studying film in Russia during the last year of the Soviet Union, Hessman noticed a lack of media that depicted the lives of average citizens. Her desire to tell the story of political upheaval from the perspective of everyday individuals was a factor in changing her approach to filmmaking. 

“Nothing had prepared me for what it was really like to be there. I realised I had never seen a film set in the contemporary Soviet Union. I started thinking of a way of film to tell stories and to bring people to places they couldn’t have known before,” said Hessman. 

Over the course of her career, Hessman has run into her fair share of problems, big and small. She recalls having to hail a decommissioned bus to transport her crew when the other ride never arrived. Through these experiences, Hessman has developed the flexibility and resilience she describes as necessary to filmmaking. 

“In every film I’ve worked on, big things have gone wrong. Things will go wrong all the time, and you just know you’ll come out the other side, and you’ll just have to figure out a way through it,” said Hessman.