“The chicken dinner scene is one of my favorite things I’ve ever shot. Just a couple of friends trying to get dinner sorted out, with mixed, mildly shocking results. This scene was also cut with a Western audience in mind, to remind us around these parts of the world where our food comes from.”
“The conversation between Kwasa and his sister Hassina in this episode is especially poignant to me because it is central to what I was trying to accomplish with this film. While most of the world experiences the Rwandan genocide through the distance of PBS reporting and other journalism, there are people out there, such as Hassina and Kwasa, for whom the genocide falls in with their everyday living room conversation about their father. The unfathomable horrors of history are made up of real live brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.”
So when I saw the Moroccan foot carver making his creations, what drew us to him was how much he enjoyed his work. While there were other people carving with their feet, I never really noticed what they were doing. What set this guy apart was that he loved his work and it showed through his eyes and through his smile. For the others, it was a way to make a living, but for this guy it was what he loved to do. It’s not that his work was complex, but it was simple. It made me realize that complexity doesn’t always bring more joy – sometimes the simpler the better. You know, it’s like a kid having more fun with a stick that’s shaped like a gun instead of having a real toy gun. Sometimes simplicity wins over complexity.
This got me thinking about Saddleback and how important it is for us to have our people working in their sweet spots. When someone is doing what they love – what they are gifted at or what they’re good at – then people are always drawn to them. But, if someone is just doing something for a paycheck, very rarely is anyone ever drawn to them and that extends to their business. That’s what we strive for at Saddleback Leather and Old Mexico manufacturing. We strive to put people in their sweet spots so that they love what they are doing and people are drawn to them. When we hire at Saddleback we not only look at resumes and experience, but we test everyone to find their Core Values so that we can put them in the area where they shine. I would give that advice to all business owners.
If you have someone that works for you or under you and they are drawn towards other areas, pay attention to that and share with your people what you have noticed. Pull them aside and say “hey I noticed that you are drawn towards people and you like talking to others, but you are stuck in the accounting department.” Encourage them to step out and try something different more towards their gifting. If you do that they’ll be even more successful than they would be in their accounting job and your business, in turn, will be more successful and draw others towards it. If someone is making people smile because of their work and they enjoy what they are doing that’s a win-win for everyone.
“I had a lot of fun filming with Tim and Susan. They are wonderful people, who finally got to meet Kwasa a year or so after we wrapped production on this film. Besides introducing Tim and Susan, my intent with this sequence was also to illuminate the stark contrast between average American life and average Rwandan life. Even the middle class in America lives an order of magnitude more comfortably than just about every other person who’s ever lived throughout all human history. It’s so strange to me that some of us are born into safety and comfort, and some of us are born into murder and chaos. It seems remarkably random and cruel.
For this reason, the scene of Kwasa alone in his new room making a wall collage of his vision of America is one of the most heartbreaking scenes for me. While we were filming, my translator had to run out on an errand, so this was one of the few moments I happened to find myself filming alone with Kwasa. Without any fellow Rwandans to put a show on for, he was calm, quiet, and focused on his project. This was a side of Kwasa I rarely witnessed during all of my time with him. It left quite an impression on me.”
We’ve all heard it said never forget where you came from, and when your memories are peppered with unspeakably horrific scenes that’s pretty much a given. In this week’s episode of Life After Death, Kwasa gets the excitement of looking for a new home as he moves on from the tiny shanty we saw in episode 3. He also gets the “thrill” of visiting the dentist for the first time in his life. All of these newfound adventures are counterbalanced by his sharing the last memories he has of his mother. Throughout the episode we see all of these ventures begin to take a toll on Suzette. She tell us “I’m not trying to change the world, only do what’s on my heart.” However, when you love someone and are trying to help them, there are times when it feels as if you are carrying the weight of the world.
Another one of my favorite shots is of Kwasa just sitting and chuckling to himself in his new house. A real nice moment of slight disbelief at this whirlwind of serendipity
Filmmaker Joe Callendar said “I love the opening shot of Suzette rubbing her head. I was intending to shoot the dentist poster behind her, but by some lucky framing I happened to get her rubbing her head. In that shot I see a very, very tired woman, which on that afternoon, she certainly was. Kwasa talks and talks and talks, but Suzette always listens. Another one of my favorite shots is of Kwasa just sitting and chuckling to himself in his new house. A real nice moment of slight disbelief at this whirlwind of serendipity.”
We’ve all seen them … the late night TV commercials with some famous celebrity asking us to give money to help a starving child. Here in America we’ve seen them so many often we don’t usually give a second thought because it’s so far away and we have our own problems here at home. But, what happens when we see it first hand? What happens when we can’t change the channel? In this week’s episode of Life After Death, Suzette goes to see where Kwasa is living for the first time and it hits her pretty hard. Her words sum up the struggle: “until you sit here and experience it yourself it just doesn’t seem as real.” Reality is much bigger than what we see on TV.
Tina, Suzette’s sister, was on the same trip and described what it was like for her. “On one of our trips, Kwasa took us to see where he had been sleeping. I remember seeing his place for the first time. It was a shack about the size of a small closet. He had some foam on the ground for a mattress and his clothes were hanging off some bricks in the walls. It was cold, dark and damp in his little hut. I was glad to see he wasn’t living on the streets but it broke my heart to see him living in such conditions.”
While the film gets off to a fairly buoyant start, this is where things start to get real. Suzette is visibly affected by Kwasa’s living conditions, as was I. I really grew to respect Suzette’s tenacity and resolve to give love with a very boots-on-the-ground approach, in a place that has so many problems and so much pain. All I could do was tell the story that was right in front of me.
Of course, episode three is also filled with Kwasa’s humorous takes on life. For Kwasa, everyday life is our TV commercial, but he can at least have fun anyway. This is how Filmmaker Joe Callendar describes the episode: “while the film gets off to a fairly buoyant start, this is where things start to get real. Suzette is visibly affected by Kwasa’s living conditions, as was I. I really grew to respect Suzette’s tenacity and resolve to give love with a very boots-on-the-ground approach, in a place that has so many problems and so much pain. All I could do was tell the story that was right in front of me.”
Most of us grew up with parents who incessantly preached the value of hard work and earning an honest living, so when the time came to get out on our own it was a natural transition and part of us becoming a proverbial “good citizen.” But, what if, in the first 18 years of your life no one was there to instill those values into your being? What if you grew up never seeing any benefit to hard work and very few people around you actually earning an honest living? For those of us fortunate enough to be born and raised in a first world country, we take for granted the fact that if you work hard you will usually get ahead, but not everyone in the world has that advantage. That’s where we find ourselves today in episode two of our Life After Death series. Our protagonist Kwasa is trying to overcome a lifelong habit of avoiding work and getting by through other means.
Our protagonist Kwasa is trying to overcome a lifelong habit of avoiding work and getting by through other means.
Filmmaker Joe Callander says “The scene with Kwasa and his ex-boss Peter is one of my favorites in the film. I think a lot of Western viewers won’t be able to really understand Kwasa’s mentality here as he talks about his work experience. Kwasa grew up in the closest thing to hell on earth that may ever be found on this planet. He was never exposed to that American ideal of working hard to get ahead. All he knows is survival, and so the notion of showing up at a certain place at a certain time, day after day, to perform tasks for wages, must be more than a little strange to him. This nuance may be lost on a lot of Western viewers. At the same time, the antics of a rebellious young guy pulling a fire alarm is entirely relatable.”
As a former youth pastor, Dave Munson is quite adept at helping young men get on track with their lives and it is one of his true passions in life, but things didn’t go quite as planned with Kwasa. After being frustrated almost to tears, Dave learned to take his “first world blinders” (that most of us harbor) off and better understand Kwasa’s struggles. He still works with Kwasa and the endeavor is ongoing, but the effort is never in vain as Kwasa continues to learn and grow. So, as you watch this episode and laugh at Kwasa’s antics and candid humor, just appreciate all those lectures you received as a kid! Enjoy!
Wherein we meet to our Protagonists, Kwasa and Fils. We learn of their Driver’s Ed ambitions, and follow them on moto taxis to the community do, where a vicious Kung Fu battle ensues after Kwasa educates us on the deadly secrets of the Snake Technique.
The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 has been well documented and many stories, movies, and books have been made which convey the pain and suffering experienced during that dark period of Rwanda’s history. Followers of Saddleback Leather, Love41 or Dave and Suzette know that they are heavily involved in the lives of the people of Rwanda and through their years of ministering, they have met some interesting folks with none more compelling than a young man named Kwasa.
Suzette first met Kwasa in 2012 when one of her sponsored sons, Anthanase, gave him clothes so he could go to church. Kwasa was surviving on the streets and living in a tiny shed on the side of a furniture makers shop. He made a living by robbing and beating people and was an extremely rough character. Despite his harsh exterior, Kwasa had a charisma which drew people to him. One of Suzette’s favorite quotes from Kwasa says it all: “I have 500 people who love me and 300 who don’t!” This dichotomy perfectly represents many of the young people of Rwanda; a desire to succeed and prosper, but a continual struggle to overcome the past that shapes them. With this in mind, Saddleback filmmaker Joe Callander set out to document a snapshot of Kwasa’s life.
This dichotomy perfectly represents many of the young people of Rwanda; a desire to succeed and prosper, but a continual struggle to overcome the past that shapes them.
Joe said: “I knew the Rwandan genocide was way too big, horrific, and complex for me to approach head-on as a filmmaker making the kind of films I make. There have been many books, news reports, and PBS specials that have examined the genocide with far more insight and value than I could ever manage. To me, a portrait on a couple Rwandan friends was a much more interesting angle, and so that’s the route I chose for this film. It was a conscious decision to only touch on the genocide incidentally, as its shadow fell on my subjects in the course of their daily life, which as it turns out, is quite often. But to set the tone, the film opens with no direct mention of genocide – just a couple friends doing what friends do like eating lunch together, bumming around town, and goofing off down by the kung fu dojo.”
Midnight Three & Six is the second Sundance short documentary to come out of Dave Munson’s crazy Saddleback Filmmaker-in-Residence initiative.
In the fall of 2013, I was working in the Saddleback Marketing department, doing a lot of copywriting, as well as all the branded video content. One evening I was editing at Dave and Suzette’s house (which I often did around that time, as I was living in their guest bedroom while on a journey between here and there), and he marched up the stairs, popped around the corner and said something to the effect of, “Joe, no more copywriting work. You’re on filmmaking full-time now. OK? And I only want you working on Saddleback stuff four days a week. Take at least one day a week and make your own stuff.” This approach may sound a little radical, and I suppose it is, but it also aligns completely with Dave’s philosophy on business, which can pretty accurately be distilled into two points;
1. Do everything you can to get your employees doing work they love, and
2. Do everything in your power to make everyone around you as successful as possible
And so for the last two years, Dave has effectively funded an in-house filmmaking laboratory as a long-term marketing initiative. He’s given me pretty much total creative freedom to experiment and fail and develop as a filmmaker, both with Saddleback’s branded content, and my own personal work. If I want to go off and make my own personal project that has nothing to do with leather, Dave just says, have fun, good luck, see you when you get back. As was the case with Midnight Three & Six. The film tells the story of Dave’s sister Patricia, and her Type 1 diabetic daughter Grace. Type 1 diabetes research is a cause that Saddleback has been deeply involved with since Grace was diagnosed nearly ten years ago. And so when Patricia approached me about the possibility of telling their story to help raise awareness, I did not hesitate to take on the project.
We’ve kinda been making this up as we go along. But at every step of the way, I’ve trusted Dave to have patience when I fail. And he’s trusted me to learn from my mistakes. The biggest hurdle in developing as a filmmaker is having the resources to fail as often and as quickly as possible, so that you may begin to figure out what actually works. Dave saw the value in this model of protracted experimentation, and invested in me to execute it.
And after two Saddleback Leather Films in Sundance, not to mention dozens of other great festivals, as well as having our work highlighted on PBS and the New York Times, and a feature documentary fresh off the festival circuit that’s about to launch in 12 episodes on the Saddleback YouTube channel over the next three months, I have to believe we’re doing something right. If there are any producers out there reading this, take note: trust, kindness, grit and fortitude are the main ingredients to success.
Keep an eye out for many more films coming out of the Saddleback Filmmaker-in-Residence Story Lab this year. We’re just getting started.