Nathaniel Hansen – Filmmaker Blog

PBS Features latest film All the Presidents’ Heads


On February 22nd, PBS’s American Experience featured the latest documentary film project I was able to film and edit, a short documentary called All The Presidents’ Heads, directed by Adam Roffman. ALL THE PRESIDENTS’ HEADS,is about one man’s quest to save the Presidents of the United States. Watch it below!

So far, the film has screened at:
Camden International Film Festival, The DocYard, Mass Media Expo, Hawaii International Film Festival, Indie Memphis Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Starz Denver Film Festival, New Hampshire Film Festival, St.Louis International Film Festival, Mirror Mountain Film Festival, St. Cloud Film Festival, Fairhope Film Festival, Flyway Film Festival

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Expired! A short documentary about milk expiration dates in Montana

In 2015 I partnered with the talented Rebecca Richman-Cohen and her production company Racing Horse Productions on a fun project for Harvard Law School and the Food Law and Policy Clinic. We were tasked to produce a short film helping inform consumers about misleading expiration date laws in the United States.

We spent a week traveling to Missoula, Montana and to Rutgers University in New Jersey, documenting the bizarre expiration date laws on the books for milk.

The LA Times ran an OpEd on the documentary, and the short film also ran on Quartz.

We filmed with a Canon C300 for most of the content, while also relying on a Movi Freefly system and an iphone 6 for some of the slow motion shots.

Expired? Food Waste in America – A Short Documentary film

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Pantone Short Documentaries featuring Graphic Designers

In December of 2015, Case Agency in NYC asked if I would collaborate with them on a series of short documentary films profiling three prolific graphic designers in a campaign introducing new color tools for Pantone. I was excited, as it had been some time since I had produced short documentary (90 second), profile work, and I was excited to jump in.

We produced and edited the films in the two weeks running up to Christmas, spending a day with each artist. We rolled entirely hand-held on two RED cameras, a 5k Scarlet and an 6k Epic Dragon, with Canon Cineprime lenses, and mostly natural light. When we did put up a light, we were bouncing one Area 48 LED off a nearby wall or beadboard.

I’m pleased with how the short films turned out. We also produced a short featuring behind the scenes work at Pantone, which you can see below as well.

Chip Kidd

Jessica Walsh

Eddie Opara

Pantone Behind the Scenes

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Documentary Film SPEARHUNTER is now online

Last year I was invited to shoot and edit a film in southern Alabama about “the world’s greatest spearhunter,” col. Gene Morris. With directors Adam Roffman and Luke Poling we were lucky to have the film premiere at SXSW, and then make the rounds a more than 30 film festivals around the world. It’s been an amazing ride, and now you can watch the film for free.

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The Elders Documentary Now Available for Download and Streaming

the-elders-VODI’m excited to announce that my feature-length documentary film The Elders is now available via Vimeo’s On Demand service. You can download or rent the film by visiting the film’s website here.

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The Elders Reviewed by Boston Globe Critic Peter Keough

Via The Boston Globe
nathaniel hansenAMONG THE MANY outstanding documentaries in the 2013 Independent Film Festival of Boston, Nathaniel Hansen’s The Elders stands out as both commonplace and remarkable. It consists of interviews with ordinary people, ranging in age from their 70s to their 90s, and confirms the truism that with old age comes wisdom — and a lot of great stories.

On a rainy morning in early April, I meet Hansen at a Dunkin’ Donuts not far from Emerson, where he earned a master’s in media arts and now teaches undergraduate film students. The 35-year-old father of two resembles a young Matthew Modine, and though he just returned from a 16-hour flight from Mumbai, he is relaxed and affable.

“I was there interviewing Malina Suliman, a 23-year-old Afghan woman who is a graffiti artist,” he says, noting the woman was in India to visit her hospitalized father, a victim of a suspected Taliban attack. “She’s trying to force people to think about women’s rights in Afghanistan. I have enough for a short piece, but I’d like to expand it if I can.”

This tendency to find ever-deeper stories is becoming a hallmark of Hansen’s work. After he raised $12,000 on Kickstarter (and got a matching grant from a nonprofit) for TheElders, the Newtonville resident asked his funders and others to direct him to people with interesting stories. He found so many that he had to drive 14,000 miles across the country just to interview them all. “I spent two and a half months on the road,” Hansen says, “and ended up interviewing 24 people in almost as many locations.”

Some of his subjects, Hansen adds, had so much to tell that they could have been featured in their own film — a Native American Vietnam War vet with PTSD, for example, who, after surviving a suicide attempt, turned to carpentry in search of peace of mind. “It was one of those interviews in which you say, well, that story is definitely going in. And then there would be another and another,” he says. “Story after story for three and a half hours. He was someone who had seen and done horrible things and was racked with guilt but was recovering from it in an artistic way.”

In his next project, Hansen is creating a portrait of a whole community on the north shore of Oahu, told through its residents. “I like to tell stories about extraordinary people who are doing ordinary things,” he says. “I’m captivated by the mundane moments of our lives, which, in aggregate, are really the most meaningful.”

As part of the Independent Film Festival Boston, the Somerville Theatre hosts the world premiere of Hansen’sdocumentary featureThe Elders This Sunday at 12:45 p.m.

Peter Keough, former film editor of The Boston Phoenix, is a frequent Globe contributor. Send comments to

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The Elders highlighted in “Best of Boston’s IFFB” lineup


Why hasn’t Hollywood realized that old people are a gold mine of story material? Though Nathan Hansen’s documentary opens with a quote from Simone de Beauvoir about how a society should be judged by the way it treats the elderly, his film is more about what old people can offer than what they need. In a style reminiscent of Errol Morris, he interviews seniors from disparate backgrounds, each with exemplary tales to tell. They include a Japanese-American woman whose dream of becoming a teacher ended when she and her family were put in an internment camp during World War II, and a Native American Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder who exorcised his demons through carpentry. Asked why he works with old wood, he sums up the film’s theme, explaining that society disposes of used things too quickly, and is the poorer for it. (April 28, 12:45 p.m., Somerville)


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Kupuna: An Interactive Documentary


Press Contact: Michelle Larson
December 2012

Independent Filmmaker Returns to Kickstarter to Fund Interactive Documentary Featuring Indigenous, Elderly Hawaiians

Boston, MA – When independent filmmaker and producer Nathaniel Hansen first found the crowdfunding website in 2009, he said he “instinctively knew it would change the lives of artists around the world,” and it appears he wasn’t wrong, not by a long shot.

Since Kickstarter opened its doors in 2008, the crowdfunding site has helped over 33,000 projects raise more than $367M. Of that, Hansen can claim a fair share, having raised $12,519 for his first project along with an additional $500k he’s credited with helping raise as a consultant or strategist for projects run by friends and colleagues. Some of these projects have raised more than $100k, and many have gone on to win awards and accolades around the world. “It sounds lofty,” Hansen says, “but being involved in a crowdfunding campaign will change your life. It changed mine, and from a creative and professional perspective there are few things more rewarding than seeing a worthy project receive funding. It’s inspiring for the fans and contributors and the whole process is humbling and exhilarating for the artists.”

With his first project funded in 2010, a documentary about the elderly in America, Hansen said that his primary goal was to see if the crowdfunding model actually worked, and if it could be a method for funding his future work. “Launching that first campaign was nerve-racking, and exhausting, but the stress paid off. After 21 days we exceeded the goal and I received a follow-up call from a non-profit that was watching the campaign. They double-matched what I had raised. Four weeks later I was on the road and would produce a film that would leave a lasting impression on not only my life, but hopefully on the lives of those who have the chance to see it.”

In November 2011, Hansen was invited to screen the finished film as part of a keynote lecture at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, where he completed his undergraduate studies a decade earlier. At a post-screening lunch, he was encouraged to expand the project to include an even further-marginalized group of elders, indigenous Hawaiians. “I was very interested in expanding the project, but I wanted to create something I didn’t have the resources to produce with The Elders. I wanted my next project to be interactive.”

What Hansen is referring to is a somewhat new method of digital storytelling that allows users to interact with the narrative and its subjects on the web via their computer, a tablet, or mobile device. “There is always a place for linear storytelling, but some stories are best-suited for retelling in a way that’s more inherently immersive and also demands some level of user-interaction,” Hansen said.

This time on Kickstarter, Hansen and his team are looking to raise a minimum of $30,000. “The goal represents about a quarter of our total budget for this project, but it would allow us to film all the interviews and get development started. We have some matching funds that are contingent on our ability to raise this first amount, and we’ve applied to a number of cultural and technology grants I’m confident we’ll have a shot at winning.”

According to the project website, Hansen’s latest project Kūpuna, “is a portrait of a rural community as told through the lives, memories, and stories of elderly Hawaiians born and raised in the small town of La’ie, Hawaii, on the north shore of O’ahu.” If funded by December 21st, Hansen points out that the finished project will rely on a variety of media to help tell “the whole La’ie story.” Through interviews with elders and residents, hula and other cultural performances, scenic footage of the local land, interactive genealogies, archival footage and photos, as well as three animated cultural myths the project will provide users and the community with a rich and contextualized look at a town diverse as any on the planet.

The backdrop for this project is the town of La’ie, a town with human roots stretching back at least 2000 years. The town became a Mormon outpost in the Pacific during the 19th century, and its own coming of age over the last 150 years makes it, according to Hansen, ground zero for an interactive documentary, “In today’s world we witness the increasing intersection of global forces in the day-to-day life of local communities, and interactive documentaries are very well-positioned to explore these complicated but important stories. La’ie’s history and its diverse population make for compelling and rich storytelling.”

La’ie, with a population of around 6,000, has a number of diverse groups struggling to have their stories and interests represented: a worldwide church, a top-rated university, an underrepresented indigenous Hawaiian minority, diasporic Polynesians, and transient/displaced mainlanders, among others, all make up the local population. Hansen points out that the Hawaiian narrative is key to the project, noting “most histories have focused on the colonization/Christianization of the town, neglecting innumerable local narratives, and when they are mentioned it’s very simplified or strictly in the context of a cultural event or missionary stories. We’re looking to examine the whole story of this town both ancient and modern, and you just can’t do that in a 60 minute film, or even in one book, which is why we’ve made this project interactive, web-based, and free to the public once we launch.”

Dr. Kali Fermantez, a professor of Hawaiian studies and one of the film’s producers, spoke of the backseat Hawaiian culture has taken recently, noting specifically that “Kūpuna (Hawaiian elders) can metaphorically make time stand still … This project will put the kūpuna and Hawaiian culture front and center in a way that needs to happen.” Similarly, addressing the vital role these local elders play in modern Hawaiian life, Dr. Matt Kester, the film’s producing historian and archivist, said that “these elders play such an important advisory role in the way that our communities are defined and the way they’re shaped, and through public opinion.” After a series of meetings and preliminary interviews with kupuna in September 2012, Hansen and the rest of his producing team have been given unprecedented access to a group often overlooked by the mainstream media.

Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition for its project originators. Once a project is launched, the timeline cannot be altered, and the funding goal is locked. If the project reaches or exceeds its goal, the project is successful. If not, then no money changes hands, and most teams regroup and try to understand where the campaign went wrong.
“I’d be the first to tell you that this is a bad time of year to be fundraising, especially in our current economic situation. I’d be the first to tell you that – but this project is so time-sensitive I didn’t want to wait. One of the elders I wanted to feature in the project passed away not too long ago, and another is not in good health. If you get involved to help capture these stories – I promise the experience will change your life. I know it’s changed mine.”

Hansen and his post-production team are currently wrapping up a similar documentary project, Hollow, based in rural West Virginia and directed by Elaine McMillion. Hollow was funded through, in addition to a prestigious grant from the Tribeca Film Institute, and the West Viriginia Humanities Council.
Funding for Kūpuna ends on December 21st, at midnight EST. If you would like more information on the project, the team behind it, or the town, please visit or

Contact: Michelle Larson or Nathaniel Hansen
Email: or
December 2012


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Dreamin’ Up Work: What would you get if you combined Kickstarter + The Elders + Hawaii + Interactive Documentary storytelling?

What would you get if you combined Kickstarter + The Elders + Hawaii + Interactive Documentary storytelling?

You’d get Kūpuna, that’s what, but first things first: I’m a dreamin’ man, yes that’s my problem.

Not only does that phrase start one of my favorite Neil Young songs, but it also sums up how I feel as an independent filmmaker and producer trying to move mountains in order to make and produce work. So often, the goal is ever-so-slightly out of reach, just too far to grasp on our own.

When I first discovered Kickstarter I knew instinctively that it would change my life and the lives of millions of similar artists and fans from around the world. I haven’t been disappointed.

In early 2010, I set out to make my first feature-length documentary film. Like most independent filmmakers, I had a million ideas with no reliable way to see them consistently funded. In 2009 I discovered and began helping friends strategize their fundraising efforts, but it would be almost a year later before experiencing the process for myself.

Armed with a few ideas on how I could raise money from my personal network of family and friends, in May 2010 I launched a 21-day project hoping to net $11,000. Hitting the project “launch” button was frightening, and what followed would rank among the most challenging 3 weeks of my life.  In the end, completely exhausted and genuinely humbled, I raised over $12,000. One week later, I was contacted by a non-profit that had been following the project and to my surprise and delight, they double-matched what I had raised on Kickstarter.  In July I hit the road.
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MicroDry Shoot NYC

I had the privilege recently of being asked to DP and co-direct a commercial for Microdry with my friends over at studioCase. Microdry create innovative items for the home such as stress mats for the kitchen and floor mats for the bath (among other things). This 1 minute video is currently on loop at Bed Bath & Beyond. Shaun Clarke was my Lighting Guru for the shoot (as he is whenever I can get him!) and always makes us look good.

We shot this at the fantastic Shooting Kitchen in Tribeca, NYC and it’s been on loop at Bed Bath & Beyond since the holidays. We shot the opening sequence with a 5 foot cineslider by Kessler Crane and their time-lapse motor setup, the Oracle Controller and the ElektraDRIVE motor. Shot on Canon 5DMKII and Zeiss CP2 lenses: 85mm, 25mm, 50mm. Of course, it was a one day shoot with kids and animals…what was that old saying? Both were wonderful to work with.
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