UT grad student Evan Roberts focuses on personal narratives


Danielle Lopez

For Evan Roberts, there’s nothing better than seeing a someone’s personal story embodied on the
big screen.

Roberts, a radio-television-film graduate student, explores the untold narratives of the LGBTQ community in his films and with his upcoming documentary, “Arvind.” 

“I think I’ve always been interested in people’s life stories and how they tell their own lives,” Roberts said. “I think it’s powerful when people see their story on screen.”

Graduating this May, Roberts has been focused on creating a short documentary about 16-year-old Austin native Arvind Hathaway. As filming comes to a close in March, Roberts is working to get Hathaway’s story known and funded.

“It’s a literal and figurative coming-of-age story,” Roberts said.

Hathaway’s story involves his day-to-day teenage experiences, from learning to drive with his father to his first date with a boy. The documentary also covers the return of his estranged and mentally-ill mother, who returns from prison and attempts to make contact with Hathaway. As this is going on, Hathaway works on his play, “Mommy.” The play is based on his experiences with his mother and is written from her perspective. 

Roberts’ own history strongly influenced his choice of Hathaway as the subject for his last project before he graduates. Before coming to UT in 2010, Roberts worked in radio and photography, with film
always remaining an option he was too intimidated to try. 

“I always wanted to eventually head toward film, but I guess I always put it off, even though that was my real dream,” Roberts said. “I was worried that if I wasn’t good at the one thing I was passionate about, there wasn’t going to be anything left to do.”

Roberts taught LGBTQ youths in radio and film workshops in San Francisco and Austin. He also spent time in the Middle East doing photography workshops for children in Palestine. During his time there, he began speaking with elders in the refugee camps. It was their stories that inspired him to make personal narratives.

“It was sort of the
beginning of my interest in oral history,” Roberts said. “I got home and continued to work in photography, but I started to do photo projects that included interviews with my subjects.”

Roberts has a theory that everybody has a personal story they desperately want known. These experiences and ideas led to the founding of his company, Audio Heirlooms, in 2005. The company creates audio portraits of families, individuals and businesses who hope to preserve their stories through recordings that Audio Heirlooms puts together. Once they are finished, the recordings are given to the
subjects as keepsakes.

“After I interviewed my grandmother about her life, and I saw how my mom reacted to receiving that present, I started to offer that service to other people,”
Roberts said.

These experiences show through Roberts’ projects at UT. 

“My first two films at UT were narrative shorts and they both have a young, gay protagonist,” Roberts said. “I found it easy to write those because I can kind of weigh my past now, and it’s easy to look back at my own stories and package them.” 

His past films, “33 Teeth” and “Yeah, Kowalski!,” tell stories of young, gay men coming into their sexuality. Roberts uses these films to convey untold stories and perspectives of the LGBTQ community in ways that are not typically expected. This theme is part of what brought Roberts and Hathaway together. 

“Mine and Evan’s views on how to portray gay characters are pretty similar in that their being gay should not be the center of the story, it should just be a part,” Hathaway said. “Just because someone is gay does not mean their life revolves around that, and I think that’s something that’s coming up a lot in the
modern day.”

Through a Kickstarter campaign, Roberts raised $16,406 for the project.

“We reached our initial goal of $10,000 in the first seven days,” Roberts said. 

Roberts plans on wrapping up production with these funds, as well as entering the film into a variety of festivals. His largest goal for “Arvind” is to hopefully have it aired on PBS’s documentary films showcase, “POV.” 

As of right now, Roberts is unsure of where film will take him once he graduates, but he hopes to continue on with similar projects.

“I would like to take part in stories that have a social-change component,” Roberts said. “Stories that need to be told by people that are off the margins in society.”