Australian filmmaker Shaun Jefford answers our questions to unveil more about his passion for travel and how he went to China to meet the Beijing Punks.

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  • Photos courtesy of Shaun Jefford
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A month ago we discovered the Beijing Punk trailer via Twitter. The film looked so cool and interesting that we decided to see what it was all about and eventually ended up writing a short article to share it with our readers. To follow this, here’s now the interview of the director Shaun Jefford. As you will see, we could only like the guy !

1. How did you become a traveler

My travel bug was borne out of boredom, out of innate curiosity and out of a certainty that was is over the hill has got to be more interesting than what is around here. My first trip was hitch hiking across Australia from Sydney to Perth when I was 16. Of course, chasing a girl. This is a long trip across some fairly inhospitable desert and when I got there 7 days later she wasn’t very interested to see me so I went all the way back again and I survived unscathed. I met so many great people out there and that sense of opportunity and feeling of exhilaration shot with danger has never left me. So maybe it’s danger that attracts the travellers heart, yes I think that is it.

2. Why is travel appealing to you? Is it inspiring your filmmaking career?

I’m always amazed at the possibilities out in the world. Every person you meet is a new adventure, everyone has stories and people want to tell them to you. If you approach your travel with a sense of humor and playfulness, the world reacts to that. Everyone wants to be the friend of a happy man. I try to keep happy and to approach people with an open hearted feeling of possibility.

Wanderlust is about looking for change – for a new perspective. Filmmaking is similar, a journey into uncharted territory. You want to enlighten yourself and in that process enlighten the people you have looking over your shoulder, show them what you’ve learned while you were out there.

3. What is your favourite memory of travel that you usually keep to yourself?

I did a fair bit of international travel when I was younger. I was on a stop over in an Asian city that I believe was Bangkok. I was there for something like 10 hours. I went out of the airport and wanted to take a look around the city. I wanted to meet people and to see anything I could. Soon I realized I was being followed by two men in a car. They followed me for about 20 minutes and eventually i walked over and just asked what they wanted. Turned out they were police and they just didn’t understand what I was doing out alone. I said I wanted to see the sights. They offered me a ride. I got into the car and for the next 5 hours they drove me around the city, talked to me and showed me around some of the highlights and low lights of the city. We laughed, and joked and even stopped off and had the local version of doughnuts. They even took me to a run down aquarium and walked me in there after hours, even tho it was closed. Eventually they returned me to the airport and we said our good byes – they were just a pair of nice guys who wanted to look after a local tourist. I’ve kept that to myself because it just seems so unlikely. That’s kind of how it was with the punks of China. They were more worried about what might happen to me so they took me into their worlds and showed me around.

4. How do you research for your trips? What resources do you use?

I don’t do any research. I usually avoid anything resembling a tourist destination in the first place. But if I find myself in a tourist trap I just look around and have an adventure. If I can find people then I can find a good adventure. No use messing up a good time by following the guide book.

5. How did you get in touch with the Beijing punk scene? Do you have advices for travelers looking for it ?

For people looking for the scene now that’s easy, go to Beijing and go find a bar called D-22 in the Haidan district. Go to the bar and order a beer – the punk scene will find you pretty quickly.

How I found the punks in China was slightly more convoluted. I met some people from the band Public Enemy while I was traveling in New Mexico scouting locations for a film. I had just accidentally killed a deer with my car, driving all night across the desert to get to that meeting in New Mexico. I had come over a ridge and there was this thing, I was in cruise control right on the speed limit, but it was dusk and I was in rattlesnake country and this deer had an appointment with God. Shaken, but somehow invigorated by not dying I felt I was now disaster proof and open to new adventures. I met Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy and he mentioned that he was producing an album for a Beijing Punk band Demerit and I was intrigued enough to go down there and take a look for myself. There I met Spike and Nevin Domer and visited the legendary underground club “D-22″” and the rest is history.

6. Why did you want to tell this story?

The people involved in the scene are so interesting and so ordinary at the same time. They are like me, just normal people, trying to get up and make something good and put it out into the world. They make music – I make films. Same game really, except I used to think film was hard, music is almost impossible. The catch is in China there are real consequences to pissing off the government. You have to deal with state suspicion and mass apathy of the people before you even get out there and publish your work. So the punks in china have double the problems most creatives have in the world. I saw this and just decided I loved these people – they are really doing something unique and on the edge. Even though its all been done before out there in London and NY and wherever rebellious kids are. These guys are doing it in a tougher environment than most and I had to show that respect.

7. What did you learn about yourself in making this film?

Main thing I learned is that I have stamina and singleness of vision. These are my strengths that came out on Beijing Punk. No matter what the film has thrown at me I have come back up throwing punches and its paid off. Filmmaking is an endurance sport, and you better love the subject you are getting into as its going to stay with you for a long time. It never ends. This morning I woke up and wanted to start writing the next thing – but here I am its 2:30 pm and I have been dealing with Beijing Punk press and festivals all day so far. It never ends. Lucky for me the people I met out there make it worth it and their struggle to find an audience outside of China has become my passion as well.

I used to just make myself laugh and think all this was in my head – but on the road with the movie, doing Q&A and talking to people about this bizarre journey I have just completed – I see that people get it and they love it. So I also learned that some people think I am a funny.

8. What is your best asset when you travel?

The ability to talk myself into or out of nearly any situation. A total lack of boundaries – and a truly inhibited (maybe retarded ?) sense of personal danger. The hard wired knowledge that half of life is turning up, the other half is getting a drink when you do. Fuck em if they can’t take a joke I say. I’m here, lets party.

9. What would be your ideal mode of transport, real or invented?

I’d like a spa bath mounted on an 18 foot camera crane. I saw a huge crane mounted on a film truck once filming a car race, the thing must have been going full tilt at 70 mph. I thought, shit that would be perfect with me on top of it in a spa bath. I’d like to attend meetings in one of those things… Oh who is that? That’s just Shaun…the director. In his crane spa.

Crane spa or a you know something classy like a Moller sky car. One like this…

10. Who would you like to travel with?

Scarlett Johansson. I’d like to talk politics with her. Maybe indulge in a round of competitive ottering.

11. Any cultural practices you’ve learned in travel you use in your own life?

I learned the sacred sport ( some call it an art ) of “Ottering” in Australia in a hotel near Circular Quay some years ago. Ottering essentially is something you do drunk. You stand at the top of some stairs and throw yourself down at full speed with your hands behind your back. The one that makes it to the bottom first wins – or if there is a crowd watching then the one that injures themselves most gruesomely wins. I was taught Ottering by a young lady who I remember as Jaqui – a journalist who I met only once. We took to the hotel hallway after many drinks and Ottered all the way to the stairs – then she disappeared down the stairs – which I had thought was the finish line – down to the floor below. After being chased back to the room by security we declared her the victor. It left quite an impression on me. Ottering could be the next Olympic sport. Ottering is best done naked – that really separates the hard core loonies from the tourists I can tell you. I’ve since learned that this is some kind of dark rite performed by Australian journalists.. but that night it just seemed like this outrageously funny idea Jaqui had..and I went with it.

12. Any update on the film distribution ?

Lots of offers to distribute and that will all come to a head this month. The success at film festivals has shown that there is an audience for this film, the next year will be very interesting as it gets out there and people get to see it. I’m certain once audiences meet unforgettable characters like Spike, Leijun, Nevin and Atom they will fall in love with these people the way I did. When they realize they are real and still out there making music, I am sure they will support these bands and make them the world wide legends they should be.

For more information go to the official website of the Beijing Punk.