Short Film Corner 2022
My Father's House
May 27, 2022
A pastor comes to terms with faith and failure as he witnesses the transformation of his house of worship into a home for the downtrodden.
Hi Rob, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening, have you been able to remain positive and creative at least?
Thank you! It’s great to talk with you too. While the last two years have been difficult, I feel like I have been able to remain positive and creative. During the initial lockdowns in particular, I was able to spend a lot of time studying directors and films that I just never had the time to do a deep dive into. But now that things are opening up again, I am feeling optimistic about the future and the work I am doing now.
What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner section with My Father’s House and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
I am very honoured to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner this year. My Father’s House is in the SFC this year because it was also in the American Pavilion’s Emerging Filmmakers Showcase in 2020. Since the festival didn’t happen that year, we were able to screen the film in-person at the American Pavilion in addition to the Short Film Corner. I hope that being in the SFC gives others an opportunity to see it on their own time, especially with how chaotic and busy the festival can get.
How vital are platforms like Cannes SFC in championing and supporting independent short filmmakers?
I think the Short Film Corner provides young and independent filmmakers an opportunity to share their work at the greatest film festival in the world. A lot of people don’t know that Cannes is a very business-centric film festival because the only thing that the general public sees are the red-carpet premieres and interviews with the filmmakers. But the SFC is a great way for a filmmaker to be able to attend the festival and show their work to people that they might want to collaborate with.
My Father’s House has had a great festival run winning the Jury Award at The American Pavilion, what has it meant to get this type of response to your film?
You know, when you are making a film, sometimes it’s easy to be so in the weeds with production and editing that you sometimes wonder if anyone else will enjoy it. Now that we have been screening the film for audiences and at film festivals, it has been so rewarding and inspiring seeing how people are touched by the film. Winning the Jury Award at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase was such a great honour for me and my whole team, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Can you tell me how My Father’s House came about, what was the inspiration behind your film?
The film came about from a conversation I had with Amanda Blaurock, founder of Village Exchange Center (or VEC for short) and stepdaughter of Pastor Marcel Naruki. I had been shooting some promotional videos for Village Exchange Center, a non-profit that helps immigrants and refugees. While I was working with them, we then started talking about Marcel and how he came to be the pastor of the church that would ultimately become VEC. We both agreed that it would make a great story, and I soon found out that Marcel’s church was going to be holding their final service in 4 weeks. So I reached out to my cinematographer, Josiah Roetker, and we were able to grab that pivotal moment in the story. Once we got that scene in the can, we were able to start filming the rest pretty quickly.
What was it about Marcel Naruki and the Village Exchange Centre that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
I’m really fascinated by stories of religion in modern society. As a Christian myself, I like looking for stories that explore how religion exists in a society that has largely minimised the importance of spirituality. I feel like Marcel’s story is a perfect example of that theme, as he was confronted with the difficult situation of closing his church due to the dwindling congregation. Plus, Marcel, Amanda, and the whole team at Village Exchange Center are such good people who are doing great things in the immigrant and refugee communities of Aurora, Colorado, and I wanted to be able to tell their story.
What was the hardest scene for you to film?
The hardest scene to film was actually a scene that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. The original ending was the 2 year anniversary of the opening of Village Exchange Center. It was a big event, and we filmed the whole thing with 3 cameras, getting a ton of footage. It was just one of those days where we shot everything! Once we started editing the film together, that ending just wasn’t giving it enough closure. So we decided to film Marcel working at a food pantry, and I think it wrapped up everything nicely.
As a filmmaker how flexible do you allow yourself once you start shooting?
For documentary especially, I have to be incredibly flexible, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be prepared or have a plan in place. I remember someone saying that when you make a documentary, you have to write out what you think the story will be--and once you do that, throw it away. Basically, you want to have an idea of what you are looking for, otherwise you will shoot everything and your editor will kill you later! I liked this approach because even though I feel like what we shot was very close to the story I had planned on telling, there was still a lot of moments where I needed to be open to change and allow the story to come through.
What is the message you want to convey with My Father’s House and do you think you have achieved this?
The message of the film is about death and rebirth, and how things that can be perceived as a failure can actually be brilliant moments of growth.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I remember having a passion for film when I was in my early teens. Like many filmmakers my age, I remember watching the Lord of the Rings and just thinking about how great it would be to work on something like that, but it just felt unattainable. But in high school, I had an English teacher, Mr. Roy Saye, who was passionate about film and often incorporated it into his lessons. One day I asked if he could watch a terrible movie that my friends and I had shot in my backyard; I was expecting him to watch it and say something like “That was good!” or “That was really funny!” Instead, he started talking about the things we did right and the techniques we were utilising (which we had no idea we were doing!), and it was then that I realised that maybe filmmaking was something I could actually pursue.
"This isn’t an original idea, but whenever I read I feel like I am constructing a movie in my head--seeing shots and locations and thinking about how the characters are playing out their dialogue."
How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
It has changed a lot, and it’s still changing! One thing that has changed is how I prepare for projects. I do a lot more pre-production than I used to, and it has helped me feel more confidence on set when it comes time to shoot.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
The only tip I would offer is to read more. This isn’t an original idea, but whenever I read I feel like I am constructing a movie in my head--seeing shots and locations and thinking about how the characters are playing out their dialogue. It helps me visualise new and creative ideas from what is not technically a visual medium. Werner Herzog expressed this better when he said: “Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read...if you don't read, you will never be a filmmaker.”
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from My Father’s House?
I hope people see Marcel’s story and are inspired by how he was able to take the perceived failure of his church closing and turn it into something new and beautiful. Also, I hope that churches who might be in a similar situation can see new ideas on how they can engage with the communities around them. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.