Evan Walker and Jason Forster, are two young men from Savannah Georgia, documenting their own personal journeys through grief and discovering themselves, using the art of the documentary.
Evan Walker, a senior film student at Savannah Arts Academy, lost his step-father, Jeff LaRoe, to a drug overdose in December of 2009. Although not his biological father, Jeff was always Evan’s biggest role model and more importantly, his number one fan.
Evan found out about my blog and reached out to me towards the end of 2011. As a big supporter of people who move through their grief using tools like artistic expression, I was excited to interview Evan Walker about his past, his current life and his upcoming documentary, J.E.T. Life.
Lisa: Evan, it’s so great that you found me and my blog through the web. I’m sorry to hear about your dad. It’s so hard to lose a parent young. I was 22 when I lost my dad. It sounds like he passed away suddenly. Were you there when it happened?
Evan: My dad’s name was and his death was extremely sudden and unexpected. Jeff wasn’t my biological father, but he was with my mom for as long as I can remember and he was always my biggest role model. My biological dad, Jeff Walker, was the one with
me when I found out about Jeff’s overdose. We were sitting in church on the Sunday after Christmas when one of the deacons approached my dad and brought him outside. Moments later, I wa
s brought outside, where I found my dad in the parking lot. He told me what had happened and the next thing I know, I was sitting in front of my house, watching the paramedics roll out Jeff in a body bag.
Lisa: This is always the next question that people ask me after they find out that my parents have passed away: Do you have any siblings? If so, has your relationship with them changed? If so, how?
Evan: Jeff had a daughter and a son that were very close to me. I called them my own brother and sister, as I called Jeff my second father. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near as close to them as I used to be. As kids, we spent a lot of time together, from Jacksonville Jaguar football games to vacationing in Hilton Head. Now that Jeff has passed, we’ve all but completely lost touch with each other. Even though it’s been two years, I think it’s still too hard for us to see each other, but that’s just how it goes.
Lisa: How is your mom doing through all this?
Evan: My mom is an incredible, strong woman and I will never know how she has managed to deal with all of this.
Jason lost his step dad, Jeff LaRoe, at age 15
Shortly after Jeff’s funeral, her mother was diagnosed with leukemia. My mom dropped everything, her job, house, and friends, to move to Fredericksburg, Virginia for the better part of a year to take care of my sick grandmother. My grandma ended up losing her battle with cancer, so my mom ended up becoming a widow and an orphan within a year and a half. However, by looking at my mom, you would never notice the pain behind her smile. She loves nothing more than helping others, creating art, and making sure that her only son is always happy. My mom is everything to me and the way she has handled everything is nothing short of miraculous.
Like myself, she feels an incredible amount of pain and breaks down occasionally, but my mom will always be my biggest hero, because that’s what she is — a hero.
Lisa: How long has it been?
Evan: It’s been almost exactly two years since Jeff passed.
Lisa: I’m so excited to tell people about the documentary you are doing, JET LIFE. Can you tell our readers a little more about it? How did you come up with the title JET LIFE?
Evan: In JET Life, my best friend, Jason Forster, and I are both searching for closure. My closure being associated with my dad and Jason with his tough past, but more importantly, this documentary is about all of us. Whether it be a parent, pet, or job, everyone has lost something or someone and it is our goal to capture those stories of loss and how these people cope and find closure. My story of spreading my dad’s ashes on top of Mt. Soledad in San Diego will be the main focus of JET Life, but we will have set up interviews in each city that we stay in that will give the viewer the opportunity to hear more stories. Everyone has a story to tell and I think that we often forget that. For every person that has experienced pain, there is someone else that has experienced ten times more. Hopefully we can succeed in opening the viewer’s eyes in showing them these peoples’ incredible stories.
“J.E.T. Life” is an old phrase that my friend, Jonathan Swain, and I have said religiously for almost two years now. It’s meaning is simple: “Just Enjoy This Life.” We started saying “Jet Life” when our favorite rapper, Curren$y, came on the scene. After a while, we found that “Jet Life” had become “J.E.T. Life” and we gave the phrase a new, deeper meaning that we live our lives by.
Lisa: What made you want to document this process?
Evan: When my mom gave me the idea of spreading Jeff’s ashes in San Diego for my high school graduation trip, my mind immediately jumped to the documentary idea. I fell in love with film when I was six years old, when I used to help my dad film our church’s Sunday service. When
Evan's best friend, Jason Forster, will join him on his cross country journey.
it was time to go to high school, I wanted nothing more than to go to Savannah Arts Academy and major in Communications, so that’s what I did. Now, at the end of my final year at SAA, I know for a fact that I want to pursue film for the rest of my life. There is no doubt in my mind that JET Life is what I have been preparing myself for since I was six years old and it makes perfect sense to utilize my talents so that Jason and I can share our experiences with the world.
Lisa: How do you feel about being vulnerable on camera about your emotions?
Evan: I am usually the man behind the camera and coming up with the ideas, so being the star of this film will definitely be a new experience for me. Before this idea was born, only a handful of people knew the story of my dad’s death, but for the sake on conveying our message, I have no problem with putting myself out there and telling my story. I have a reputation of being a closed book, but I expect the opening to be a smooth transition.
Lisa: How did you meet Jason, and why did you choose him to come with you on this journey?
Evan Walker and Jason Forster, two long time friends take a journey towards the next step in their lives.
Evan: I couldn’t imagine a better person to take on this journey with me. Jason has been like a brother to me since the first day of second grade, when he offered to share his “Dragon Ball Z” coloring book with me. Jason knew my dad extremely well, so the spreading of his ashes will be an emotional experience for him as well. Not only are Jason and I extremely close, but he has an incredible story to tell as well. Jason may not be grieving over a lost loved one, but he has overcome countless obstacles to get to where he is today. He’s one of a kind and will bring just as much to the story as myself.
Lisa: How did you come up with the cities you are going to stop in?
Evan: To get to San Diego from Savannah, there are a number of routes that we had the choice of taking. However we had to build our route around the cities that we knew were necessary to stop in. Those cities were Washington D.C., where I used to live, New York City, where Jason is from, San Francisco, where we have a great interview set up, Los Angeles, because of Jason’s love for acting, and of course San Diego. Also, on the way back to Savannah, Jason and I both agreed that we have to see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and New Orleans before we call it a trip.
Lisa: Who’s car will you be traveling in? Where will you be sleeping?
Evan: We will be taking the Amtrak train.In D.C and New York, we have family that will give us a place to stay for our tenure there, but for all the cities after New York, Jason and I will be staying in hostels all around the country. We have done extensive research on every hostel we plan to stay in and all signs point to them as the best sources of shelter.
Lisa: Where are travel funds coming from?
Evan: Travel funds are coming from the community. Almost all of our equipment and travel equipment will be results of tireless fundraising. We would like to stress that any amount of money is helpful and whoever is interested in making a donation to our project can do so on our website.
Lisa: What have you learned so far about how to deal with the passing of your dad?
Evan: When Jeff passed away, I completely shut down. I went from the class clown to the quietest kid at school. I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that bottling up feelings and hoping they go away is poisonous for the soul and the best way to get through these hard times is with the help of my friends and family. In some way or another, “J.E.T. Life” is my way of ending my silence and sharing my story with the world. My hope is that other people who have lost a loved one will hear my story, see what Jason and I are doing, and feel hope for the future, because I know what it feels like to give up hope.
Lisa: Have the relationships with your friends changed since this happened?
Evan: If you were to ask my friends that question, they would probably tell you that I have changed a lot since everything happened, but I wouldn’t say that my relationship with my friends has changed. If anything, this process has made me realize who my real friends are and made those relationships much stronger. Before this idea was born, only a handful of my friends knew about my dad’s death, so maybe the publicity will change a few relationships, but I can sleep well at night knowing that my good friends will always be by my side. I’ve always been grateful for them.
Lisa: Do you have other people in your life who have also lost a father?
Evan: I do not have anybody close to me that has also lost a father. However, I do have some friends whose fathers are non-existent or abusive and those friends have a different level of pain that I’ve never experienced. As I said before, every person that has experienced pain knows someone that has experienced ten times more.
Lisa: Do you have father figures in your life, other men you can look up to? Talk to? If so, who are they and why are they important to you?
Evan: Before Jeff died, I was fortunate enough to have two dads in my life: Jeff and my biological dad (also named Jeff.) My biological dad was just as much of my father as Jeff and I will always view them as equal. It’s confusing,I know, but to answer your question, I still have a prominent father figure in my life.
Lisa: We’d love to follow you somehow on your journey across country while you are in action and tell people where you are – what’s the best way to do that?
Evan: The best way to follow Jason and I during our journey will be through our website. We will post on the blog at the end of every day during the trip.
WATCH THE TRAILER!
Lisa: In your trailer, you mention that this process will help you to cross over into being a man. What do you think being a man is vs a kid? What is the difference to you?
Evan: I think that what separates a man from a kid is the ability to put yourself last for the sake of helping other people. It’s not about being able to change the oil or bench press your body weight. A real man looks at the world and figures out how to make it a better place. Don Corleone stressed the most important trait of a man in the film “The Godfather” when he said, “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Jeff’s death prepared me for manhood over night. Immediately, taking care of my mother and preparing for my future became my first priority. I experienced a lifetime’s amount of pain in just a few hours and in hindsight, I have to say that it was those few hours that best prepared me for manhood.
Lisa: What is your hope or intention for this film?
Evan: The main goal of this film is to grant my dad’s last wish and to spread his ashes in San Diego, while also giving Jason his chance at closure. However, our underlying hope in creating this film is to give the world a chance to turn off the critical, stressful gears in their head and to listen to the stories of other people for a change. We are all so quick to judge one another before we even know anything about each other. There are so many stories out there that are just begging for a pair of ears to hear them and in “J.E.T. Life,” we hope to give those people a chance to be heard. Hopefully, after people see our film, they will be inspired to change the way they live their lives. Hopefully, we can get more people to live the Jet Life.
Lisa: What is one thing that you learned from your dad that you will take with you for the rest of your life?
Evan: My dad always put others before himself. Along with being a nurse and helping people for a career, Jeff was always the guy that would listen to you vent and help you in any way you needed it. When Jeff saw a homeless man on the street, he would give him whatever cash he had in his wallet. Jeff cared about us more than he did about himself and because of him, I will always be striving to achieve that level of selflessness.
Lisa: Thank you for taking the time out, Evan, I really appreciate it and I look forward to keeping up with your journey!
We’ll be following Evan and Jason as they make their way across country this summer. You can read more about their documentary, stay in touch or donate towards their travels on their website JetLifeFilm.com.