The power of film

Filmmaker Paul Plett talks about five movies that have influenced his life and work

June 15, 2016 | Young Voices | Volume 20 Issue 13
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Editor
Watching great films is a spiritual experience for Winnipeg filmmaker Paul Plett. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

“Watching great films is a very spiritual experience for me,” says Paul Plett. “It hits a tuning fork in [my] heart and my whole soul reverberates.”

The 30-year-old, who attends Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, is not only an avid film watcher but makes films himself. He recently completed work on Northern Folk, a documentary about folk music in Canada, as well as a three-minute science fiction film for children about a day in the life of a hologram.

He now has two more projects in development, including Seven Points on Earth, a documentary about seven Mennonite farming communities around the world, as well as a post-apocalyptic science fiction feature about the relationship between a man and a woman who are making their way through a desolate valley to a transport ship.

Canadian Mennonite asked Plett to talk about some of the films that have influenced him:

  • Citizen Kane (1941)

Considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, this mystery drama explores the life of fictional publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane. Auteur Orson Welles co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film. He was in his early 20s at the time. “It’s such an amazing representation of what film can do,” Plett says. By the time Welles made the film, he was already known as an innovative storyteller, having directed and narrated an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds as a radio drama in 1938. “[Welles knew] how to break down barriers and do stuff that’s different,” Plett says.

  • Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope (1977)

George Lucas’s classic tale about a battle between good and evil “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” was one of Plett’s favourite movies as a child, and it remains one of his favourites to this day. “That one was hugely influential for me just thinking about what I really love about movies and the kind of movies I want to make,” he says. He calls watching the film “a religious experience,” likening “the Force” to another way of describing God. “In the context of this world, in this fantasy, in this space opera, they’re talking about the Spirit in our lives and how it binds the world together and connects everything,” Plett says.

  • Apocalypse Now (1979)

“Nothing prepared me for what it was,” Plett says of Francis Ford Coppola’s film. “It unravelled my mind as I watched it for the first time.” The film follows Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) on his mission to assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The production was plagued by problems, from sets destroyed by torrential downpours to Brando showing up overweight and not having learned his lines. That Coppola was still able to make a masterpiece in spite of those obstacles is part of what makes the movie great, Plett says: “That, to me, is the greatest example of a truly inspired director in his prime.”

  • Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Koyaanisqatsi is an experimental film that Plett describes as a “poetic documentary.” There is no dialogue or narration, just footage of cities and natural landscapes from across the United States juxtaposed with music by composer Philip Glass. Watching Koyaanisqatsi showed Plett a different way to make documentary films and influenced his 2013 work, A Documentary About Love, as well as Northern Folk. “They’re both poetic docs. They do have dialogue and music, but they’re more collage-based,” Plett says. “The idea is that the audience is going to put it on and it’s more of a meditative experience watching it, as opposed to [having someone] narrating it.”

  • The Princess Bride (1987)

Combining romance, fantasy, adventure and comedy, The Princess Bride tells the story of a farmhand named Wesley who must rescue his true love, Buttercup, from an evil prince. “It’s just a perfect movie,” Plett says. “It [didn’t have] a huge budget, but it’s still super magical. . . . It’s really funny, really well made; there’s a love story and there’s a magical element to it.” The Princess Bride is the type of work Plett aspires to. “If I could make one movie . . . that is to people what The Princess Bride is to me, then I’d be happy.”

Visit to find out more about Paul Plett’s own films.

Watching great films is a spiritual experience for Winnipeg filmmaker Paul Plett. (Photo by Aaron Epp)

Paul Plett calls Citizen Kane ‘such an amazing representation of what film can do.’

For Paul Plett, watching Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is ‘a religious experience.’

That filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola was able to make Apocalypse Now given the obstacles he faced is part of what makes the film great, Paul Plett says.

‘If I could make one movie . . . that is to people what The Princess Bride is to me, then I’d be happy,’ Plett says.

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