All around the world, fireworks are synonymous with celebration. People from different parts of the world may speak different languages and celebrate for different reasons, but their love of fireworks instills in them a set of core values that transcend cultures. Documentarian Jesse Veverka goes into deep research on this beautiful art-form and creates a story of the most spectacular fireworks across 23 countries on six continents around the world, the various cultures behind it and the passionate people who build them. Through his documentary he wishes to communicate ‘that fireworks are a beautiful art-form, a fundamental method of expression, a basic human right and something that we must cherish and pass on to future generations.’
You are trained as an aerospace engineer and were a financial analyst, so how did your fascination and interest in films begin?
I’ve always been a man of many interests, and as a kid I was fascinated with filmmaking and storytelling. I grew up in the 1980s when early analog video cameras started becoming available to consumers. By the time I was in high school, I had begun making a series of my own short action movies called Dude’s with ‘Tudes. These are pretty embarrassing to watch now, but they crystalised my passion for film. Later when I was in college at Cornell University, I considered studying film, but Cornell’s film program was mostly based on film analysis and theory [not production], and I wanted the hands-on experience. So I kept filmmaking as a hobby and studied economics and then engineering in grad school. I had a brief stint working at the since collapsed Bear Stearns in New York City, but found that it wasn’t really for me. My interest in film never went away, and in 2007 I founded my production company, Veverka Bros. Productions LLC, with my brother Jeremy. Running a production company was a way to combine my interests in film, finance, business and even engineering to a lesser extent. In 2008 we began producing our first feature-length documentary, China: The Rebirth of an Empire, about China’s geopolitical rise and grew from there.
Can you tell me a little about your latest documentary, Passfire? What inspired the film and what is it about fireworks that interests you?
Fireworks have always fascinated me. I can remember the first time my dad brought home a pack of firecrackers for Fourth of July. I had found them on the seat of our family’s old Toyota Corolla that morning and the only thing I could think about for the rest of the day was getting a chance to watch him light them off. I was also interested in chemistry as a child, especially energetic chemical reactions, and I started reading books about fireworks. But like the filmmaking, it remained as just a hobby until later in life. By the spring of 2012 I had returned to China to work on a second China-themed documentary and I was living in Changsha in Hunan province. It’s very close to Liuyang, the world’s capital of fireworks production, and I started making trips to visit the factories out of personal interest. At first no one knew me, so I was only allowed to see the showrooms.
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