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