Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Putting faith on film

City filmmaker turns to biblical stories for inspiration

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If local filmmaker Paul Plett were to audition to play a biblical character, he might easily land the role of the David, the young giant-slayer.

But instead of a Goliath, Plett is aiming his lens at other larger-than-life stories.

"In short, this is an attempt to make my faith relevant in the world today," says Plett, 28, of his plan this year to make six children's videos from stories in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament.

"It's looking at these stories in the modern-day context."

But that contemporary context won't be limited to Winnipeg scenes. Although the first video in the Kids Shorts series was shot last December at a local elementary school, the Toronto Film School graduate plans to film half of the series in Kenya and Guatemala to give an international flavour.

"These stories are for everyone and they are everyone's (stories)," says the Manitoba-born Plett, who spent much of his childhood in Zambia and Sudan with his missionary parents.

"I would never consider doing this series without going around the world."

In this case, going around the world also means directing and filming a Kenyan goat for his adaptation of the New Testament story of the Good Shepherd, which might lead to a few -- er -- unscripted and interesting moments.

"It will be a challenge, and I will get my shots, and no goats will be harmed," promises Plett, who will drag his equipment overseas to work with a Kenyan acting troupe.

Plett has set in Guatemala his take on the parable of the feeding of 5,000, telling the story through the eyes a young boy living in a village where there's not enough to eat. That adaptation of the story of a young boy sharing his lunch with a crowd will also contain messages of planning and hard work. Once completed, Plett plans to release the films as DVDs with an accompanying study guide, aimed for use in church children's programs, sell them as downloads or get a deal to broadcast them on a religious television station.

The first completed video is based on the Old Testament story of David and Goliath. Set in an elementary school classroom, Dave vs. the Bully focuses on resolving conflicts without fighting.

"My interest is to tell a story that's entertaining," says Plett, who won the Manitoba challenge for his short film Sugar at the 2014 Winnipeg Real to Reel festival.

"My focus is to make videos people want to watch. My main goal is good storytelling on a budget."

And the budget might be the main challenge. Time is running out on his 60-day attempt to raise funds through a crowdsourcing website. If he can't find backers, Plett plans to make the videos as he can afford to film them.

Money is often the problem when it comes to shooting films based on the Bible, with many productions suffering from their low budgets, says a biblical studies professor at Canadian Mennonite University, who teaches a course on film, faith and popular culture.

"A Bible film or a Jesus film works well when a viewer is able to suspend disbelief and enter imaginatively into the story," says Gordon Matties, who runs a website on movie theology at

"Very often Bible stories or Jesus stories have one or two missteps that don't do that."

For Plett, who attends a Mennonite church, making these videos is an opportunity to tell stories that reflect his Christian faith without using overtly religious language.

"I want to do stories that are well-known, that people in faith communities are familiar with, and I wanted stories that could be unpacked simply for kids."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 D15

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