"Exposure," Merging Hip Hop and the Outdoors: A Conversation with Filmmaker and Photographer Ani Yahzid
This June, filmmaker Ani Yahzid will follow two hip hop artists based in Atlanta, Georgia, Namaste and Keylan, into Olympic National Park to create a film that will encourage more multicultural urban youth to get outside.
Above: portraits of Namaste and Keylan couresty of Ani Yahzid
Ani moved to Colorado from Atlanta, Georgia when he was 13. On the drive he was stunned by the landscape. “It was overwhelming for me moving from Atlanta straight to Colorado. One thing that really hit me, you know, we flew straight from Atlanta to Denver, then drove from Denver to Colorado Springs, and the drive from Denver to Colorado Springs. The whole time I was pretty much just overwhelmed and in awe just about the landscape because everything was so different from Atlanta. We took every opportunity we could. We kind of wanted to be Nat Geo explorers type of thing, that was our romantic idea of who we were.”
Just this past summer in 2016 Ani saved up for his new camera that happens to have a video function. The goal was photography, but gradually he noticed that he liked to make videos and transitioned into a filmmaker as well. He already has four beautiful films on his website. It would seem that he had taken a class or attends film school, to which Ani responds, “What I don’t like about film class or photography class, the reason I don’t take them, is because a lot of times, it’s more like they’re telling you what you should do to make a good film. So, a good film has to have this and this and this. And this is bad and this is good. I really don’t like to think about it. I just do what I think is cool.”
The Exposure project was something that Ani wanted to create for the sake of two things that he thought “needed to meet each other:” hip hop and the outdoors.
Outdoor films seem formulaic these days. Ani explains, “everything is on a template now, the North Face films, the Patagonia films. They all look the same…We want to put a new face on the outdoors…[and make] the outdoors a space for more people.”
Ani talks about the process of making a film and the process of writing, and how each serve different creative purposes. Ani says, “I recognize the effectiveness that literature can have. Literature, in my opinion, plays on people’s imagination. Everybody can get a different take on the same situation.”
When asked about the outdoor industry, Ani grieves that “the industry aspect is profit based. That’s what I kind of don’t like dealing with a lot of these companies and stuff. The industry aspect is not something that I think is very important. It’s more about the outdoors that really matter. In my opinion it’s just making money off of what is already beautiful. But what I see in the industry is everything is pretty much uniform, as in like, you live out here in Colorado, everyone has a bike rack on the back of their Subaru type thing. I think some kid in Atlanta could hike a fourteener [(a mountain peak with elevation of at least 14,000 feet)], but he’s chilling at the mall type thing. I think that should be a possibility instead of if you’re an outdoorsy person, then you dress like an outdoorsy person, you have the lifestyle. I think it should be a little more diverse.”
“Exposure” is about getting into the backcountry and embracing the elements. “In my opinion it shouldn’t be an access thing. It’s a right to a human being to get outdoors…it should be a privilege… That really comes down to the budget…it’s expensive to do this type of stuff. That’s the access part. The privilege part. If your friends don’t do it, if your parents don’t do it, if you don’t have the funds to get out there yourself, you know you’re probably not going to get out there.”
Ani’s goal is to create an inner passion with kids to connect with the outdoors on an emotional and personal level. “Unless you live in a town like Boulder where you can get out to the mountains for free, but Boulder is expensive to live in. It’s a hard thing to tackle. This is something that you can’t tackle all at once. You have to do it one step at a time.”
Ani touches on the idea that kids in Atlanta growing up seeing North Face explorers climbing Mt. Everest having a terrible time. Kids in Atlanta would say, “Why are white people so crazy? Why do they want to do that type of stuff? “In Atlanta…poverty lives are pretty risky as they are already.” He was alluding to the issue that if you are living in poverty your life is already at risk. Your life is already so risky that climbing a mountain seems contrived and irrational.
With this project Ani strives to welcome the risk and the imperfection of it all. His goal is to simply record what Namaste and Keylan decide to do in the middle of the wilderness, their exploration, their way. Instead of an extremely structured format, the agenda is up to Namaste and Keelan.
Ani is organizing an event called, “Diversity in the Outdoors: Seminar and Networking Event,” in Denver, Colorado, which will take place at REI this evening, Wednesday May 3rd, 2017 from 6:00-8:00pm. It turns out REI has been a “tough one to reach,” according to Ani in terms of providing real support for it. Getting it done smoothly hasn’t been easy due to REI’s insistence that it be a “private event.”
He’s not looking for sponsors because as Ani shares, “all of a sudden you are representing a brand and…that’s not something I’m not very interested in. That’s why they launched an Indie Go Go campaign to raise funds through crowd funding. “We didn’t want it to be [about] product placement.”
Click the link to donate! They need all the help they can get because this is not a sponsored endeavor and it's completely, COMPLETELY GRASSROOTS. Even $5 makes a difference. YOU can make a difference. Please donate what you can or show your support by sending them a positive, loving message. It takes a lot of work, dedication, and courage to take on a project like this.
Below filmmaker and entrepreneur, Ani Yahzid, revels in his creative work while enjoying his beloved outdoors in Boulder, Colorado where Yahzid attends college as a freshman.