Posts Tagged ‘Dalits’

Monday, September 19, 2011

Three years ago, the seed idea sprouted its first shoot.  It was, as my friend Scott Last likes to call it, a BHAG.  Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  Our team got together and agreed – “Let’s make a movie.”

Frankly, if we had known in advance the obstacles, the barriers, the resistance, the seemingly insurmountable, the flat opposition – I’m not sure our guys would have proceeded back then.  There is something to be said for naïveté.  In the three years that followed, there were a hundred excuses for quitting – maybe more.  And most everyone would have understood.  But it was a powerful dream.  A compelling vision.  The impossible emerged as a possibility.  The door cracked open.  Our guys barged on through – with a team of prayer warriors holding them up all the way.

I’ve had a close look at this thing from the beginning.  I had the incredible experience of two personal trips to India in the interim.  This weekend, the official two minute thirty second trailer was introduced to over four thousand eager enthusiasts.  It’s been a long wait.  The guys nailed it.  They call it NOT TODAY.

Brent Martz, road weary and worn, beamed as he launched the video short.  Just a few weeks ago, on the flight back from India and a premier showing (to rave reviews) for the good folks who hosted the six-week on-location shoot and thirty American cast and crew (not counting the local actors, technicians, and support staff), Brent felt awful.  The day after his arrival home in Yorba Linda, he was admitted to the Emergency Center with a near burst appendix.  The doctors performed a surgery just in time.  But this weekend, Brent stood strong and tall – and as the trailer ran, the folks were flat blown away.  This is a real movie.  A powerful message.  A compelling story.  A fast paced journey, learning all the way.  A heart-tugging experience of India.  People you care for.

Back in the planning stages, we all looked around.  We could see it.  The church is abundantly blessed with artists, musicians, actors, writers, technicians and all the equipment anyone would need to make a feature film.  Most important, there was a message.  Global Freedom!  Free the Dalits!  This became our rallying cry as a church body.  And in the message of freedom is the essence of the Gospel.  Transformed lives lead to transformed culture and a transformed world.  Reaching out across the globe had a corresponding effect on the local neighborhood.  Our team agreed.  A documentary would be good.  But a full-length drama would be better.

Brent and his partner, Jon Van Dyke, were commissioned to write a script.  I read it for the first time while attending the first graduating class of Dalit students (high school) in Hyderabad.  I loved it.  A privileged Orange County millennial (Caden Welles) goes to India on a fluke with his partying pals.  They play the “ugly Americans,” Caden leaving behind a caring Mom and girlfriend. He stumbles across Annika (an eight year old Dalit – played by a student in one of our schools) and her father on the mean streets.  At first, he shuns them.  But they come back.  He grows attached to the little girl.  And when he learns that her father, thinking it best, accepts cash and a promise that she will be better off from an agent who takes Annika away, Caden does his homework.  He staggers, surmizing from an Internet search that the innocent little girl has become the victim of human trafficking – children snatched from their families and tossed into a world of unimaginable torment.  Off balance, Caden becomes obsessed with her rescue.  He and Annika’s father, Kiran, join forces as an unlikely pair in the hunt.

I couldn’t put down the script.  I spent the next week traveling with Brent and Jon scouting film sites and locations for the movie.  Then the next ten months researching and writing a book with Matthew Cork on the story of Global Freedom.  I spoke regularly with our partners in India who were enormously helpful in the research.  Next came the casting.  Then delays in filming (getting “permissions” to bring the film crew into India and through customs).  Then more challenges with time constraints and weather conditions, sickness, unreliable permissions on site, language barriers, clashing visions, debates over locations and scene selection, transportation, and every other distraction you might imagine.  Then in the editing room.  What to cut?  Keep the story moving, with all the hints and details just right.  And finally, post-production – color corrections, animated sub-titles, original music for the sound track, smoothing out the dialogue, adding street sounds and highlights.  And this paragraph barely begins to identify the monumental challenges.

It was an unfortunate banner – “Mission Accomplished.”  If former President G.W. Bush could do it over, the announcement would not have been so apparent on that aircraft carrier as the nation celebrated the fall of Hussein’s reign over Iraq.  Because, in retrospect, the work wasn’t done.  The mission still incomplete.  To this day.

So, when I congratulate our team with a  “Mission Accomplished,” I am compelled to add some qualifiers.  In many respects, the work is just beginning.  The movie needs to be seen, and should be seen by a mass audience.  The message needs to get out there. We’re eager (and sometimes impatient) as we watch the plan unfold.

But for today, just for today, our team has accomplished that BHAG. Kudos! It is nothing short of amazing.  We like to call it a God-sized vision.  Impossible, apart from His clear passion for a world in need – prompting us all to see beyond ourselves to something more – and His power to enable us to go far beyond what we can imagine.  Mission accomplished.

A great film is “in the can.”  Ready for prime time.  Who would have imagined it?

Well, some did.  And here we are.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011



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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Matthew Cork visited India in October of 2007, his experience triggered a movement that has been gathering momentum and is about to break on the scene with powerful force.  About two and a half years ago, inspired by the success of a church in Atlanta, the creative team set out to make a theatrical, full length feature film to capture a wide audience.  It would be a drama, not a documentary, and would build a bridge half way around the world, connecting resources and a laser beam focus on the plight and destiny of a people group of nearly three hundred million – the Dalits of India.

Matthew announced the improbable goal – to eliminate the caste system.  When I first heard him say it, I was struck by the sheer enormity of it.  (“Impossible!” was my first reaction.)  But as we explored the problem and the grass roots movement that is expanding like an October Southern California brush fire, consuming long held prejudices and egregious traditions turning the old ideas of untouchability into ash, we began to understand that the impossible becomes possible.  In response, a single Southern California church, where Matthew Cork serves as Lead Pastor, pledged nearly twenty million dollars (most of it toward building schools for a whole new generation of Dalits) to fuel a campaign that will spell freedom and hope for millions.

What a journey.  Matthew commissioned two of his top creative lieutenants to write a script.  Brent Martz and Jon Van Dyke went to work.  They gave birth to a compelling story: Caden, a privileged, cynical, self-absorbed Southern California twenty-something, travels to India on a lark with his party pals and stumbles across an eight-year-old Dalit, Annikka, and her father Karin, while back home his girlfriend, mother and step-dad pray.  Repelled at first, Caden gradually becomes attached to the wide-eyed little girl and when Karin sells her away for a small fistful of rupees, thinking it will guarantee a better future than he can give, Caden is incensed.  As he connects to the Internet from his luxury hotel, his research gives him a primer on trafficking and the previously calloused Californian becomes obsessed with her rescue.  Together, Caden, the entitled Californian, and Karin, the Dalit father, set out to find Annikka.  Their search takes them all over India, and into the dark world of human trade where children are debased as a sub-human commodity.

The script led to a casting call.  Church folks volunteered to serve the project.  A cinematographer emerged.  Donations materialized.  Excitement accelerated.  Storyboards mapped out production plans.  Slum Dog Millionaire (a surprise hit film which introduced the world to India’s untouchables) stormed the Oscars.  Doors opened in India.  Cast members and crew appeared from both sides of the globe.  A location trip identified sites for filming.  Filmed on location, the movie would take characters through the slums, the marketplace, the trains, the bustling city streets, the dark shadows of the brothel district and back allies where human dignity is forgotten, trampled.  The team faced impossible odds.  Barriers and roadblocks have been encountered all along the way.  Murphy’s Law (if it can go wrong, it will) imposed itself time and again.  And in spite of all the challenges, all the objections, all the predictions of calamity, the seers of doom, all the delays, all the undelivered promises, all the reasons why the team could well have thrown up their hands in discouragement and simply said “never mind”, “I quit”, “this is too much”, “we can’t go on”… in spite of all of that and more, the movie is almost done.  And it is very, very good.

As I write, the production crew is applying the finishing touches.  World-class composer Don Harper has completed an original score.  The mix is nearly complete.  The final edit is going through a color correction, which is tantamount to a Photo Shop of every frame.  The result is eye-popping clarity and crisp resolution.  Much of the dialogue, true to life, is in an Indian dialect.  Animated subtitles bring the conversation to life.  The team will be done mid-summer.  Focus groups will register their responses for final tweaking and presentation to the several major distributors who have already indicated keen interest.

I wish I could express adequately how proud I am of the production team.  I am attached to this project largely because I traveled to India twice these past two years; the first trip along with the writer, director, producer and cinematographer.   We located sites in Hyderabad, on the train, in Calcutta and Mumbai.  As the movie was made, for nearly a full year, I worked with Matthew to write a book that tells the story of Global Freedom.

One man’s vision, one that captured him in the middle of the night in a hotel room in the heart of India, has already moved a mountain.  It’s about to move a nation.

Maybe the whole world.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

Learn more: The Movie | The Book 

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