Mission: Impossible

Mennonite filmmaker battles food poisoning and unpredictable weather to complete latest films

September 24, 2014 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Co-editor

Ask Winnipeg filmmaker Paul Plett what it was like shooting his most recent project in Kenya, and he responds with two words: “Very intense.”

Plett, 29, travelled to the East African country at the end of April to film Hope in the Dry Season and The Lost Goat, the second and third instalments of Kid Shorts, a series of five- to 10-minute videos he created that retell biblical sto-ries in a modern-day context from a child’s perspective.

When he got to Nairobi, the country’s capital, Plett had two months to cast actors, scout locations, get costumes, take care of other necessary arrangements and then film the videos.

“The thing about making a movie like this, when it’s such a small production, is that it’s essentially an impossible task,” Plett says. “It’s only by believing that you’re going to get it done, that you can get anything done.”

Still, unforeseen obstacles arose that made the production challenging:

  • Plett came down with a bout of food poisoning the day before filming began.
  • He was filming Hope in the Dry Season during Kenya’s rainy season, which meant he and his crew had to work around the unpredictable weather.
  • The titular goat in the second short proved difficult to direct.

Some might see those things as insurmountable problems, but Plett took them as challenges to overcome.

“Obviously, I wouldn’t be in Kenya if I wasn’t going to pull it off,” he says. “I wasn’t going to come back without a movie.”

Plett’s grit paid off, and Hope in the Dry Season and The Lost Goat are now available for viewing on YouTube. As with Dave vs. the Bully, the first film in the series, the new films are accompanied by study guides so churches can use them as teaching tools.

The Lost Goat tells the story of the Good Shepherd from the perspective of a young boy in Kenya who loses his goat and has to go after it and bring it home.

Hope in the Dry Season tells the story of Job from the perspective of Job’s daughter, Hope. Hope lives on a farm in Kenya and watches her father struggle with his faith as the rains fail and the crops die.

The first film is about love and caring for what we have, Plett says, while the second—in addition to retelling the story of Job—touches on issues of food security. The food-security element is one of the reasons Plett wanted to film in Kenya, where he has worked before filming videos for non-profit organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Plett is the son of MCC workers, and spent parts of his childhood growing up in Zambia and Sudan, so he also wanted to film the shorts in Kenya so that he could return to the continent that helped shape him.

“That’s where I learned about Jesus and faith, and that’s where I became a Christian,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of work now as a professional with relief and development organizations . . . so, for me, issues surrounding the Global South—in particular, food security and stewardship—those are important issues to me. Although I think those issues are very important [in Canada], I think a lot of those issues can be seen more starkly, and recognized more starkly, in an African context.”

While Plett did much of the work on the shorts himself, he enlisted the help of a film production company in Nairobi to assist him.

He initially wanted to crowdfund the project via Kickstarter, but when he failed to meet his goal of $30,000, Plett was able to raise the funds from people who had heard about the project while he was promoting the Kickstarter campaign.

When he first had the idea for Kid Shorts, Plett envisioned six films in the series. Soon he begins work on the fourth film, a re-telling of the Prodigal Son story. He has also launched another crowdfunding campaign, this one on Indiegogo.com, to raise money to make the final two films, one based on the Good Samaritan, and the other based on the Feeding of the 5,000.

If he reaches his fundraising goal, Plett will be able to film some of the shorts in Guatemala. But even if he doesn’t get all of the money he is hoping for, he will find a way to complete the series.

“This is something I’m really passionate about and really want to see through to the end,” he says. “I kind of had a goal in mind last fall and I want to reach that. I’m almost all of the way there.”

The Kid Shorts videos and resources are available on Mennonite Church Canada’s website at www.tinyurl.com/MennoKidShorts. Learn more about Plett’s Indiegogo campaign at www.tinyurl.com/KidShorts56.

--Posted Sept. 24, 2014

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