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You've gotta have faith: Christian filmmakers start up business, teaching academy in rural Audubon

Playing with light effects on the last night of the 2016 MWFCA, with Joseph Santoyo, Hannah Huwe, Hannah Kenney and Andrew Bartlett.(Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)1 / 9
Enjoying the fruits of their labor at the 2016 MWFCA are, from left, Andrew Bartlett, John-Clay Burnett, Carol Kiemle and Alex Van Eeckhout. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)2 / 9
MWFCA director Andrew Bartlett, left, helps Alex Van Eekhout line up the shot. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)3 / 9
Filming student interviews during the 2015 MWFCA crew near Detroit Lakes. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)4 / 9
On set during day two of the 2015 Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy, with Micah Versemann, Robyn Carlson, John-Clay Burnett, Andrew Bartlett and Joe Turman. (Photo courtesy of the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)5 / 9
Having some fun outside Detroit Lakes' Voyageur Lanes bowling alley during last year's MWFCA (Photo courtesy of the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)6 / 9
The 2016 crew from the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy posed for this "epic" group photo in June. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)7 / 9
MWFCA co-founder Hannah Kenney, right, with Clara Ueland taking photos during the 2016 academy. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)8 / 9
On set with the MWFCA crew, including Hannah Huwe, Andrew Bartlet, Carol Kiemle, Anna gurman, Lydia Kenney and Joe Turman. (Photo courtesy of the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy)9 / 9

Ever since they were kids, Hannah Kinney and Andrew Bartlett have loved making movies.

"Me and my brothers watched a lot of Roy Rogers and Andy Griffith," says Bartlett, 20. "That was our inspiration — making westerns in our basement in Fargo, on 8 millimeter tapes.

"Later on, we did some slapstick videos with the Kenney family," he added.

"We started making movies together for fun," added Kenney, 26, noting that their families had been friends since before they were even born.

About seven years ago, the duo decided to start taking their hobby a little more seriously, and in 2011, they embarked on their first joint film project, "with a real director, camera and script," said Kenney.

"For me, that was the real epiphany moment," says Bartlett. "I had been doing auto mechanic stuff — filmmaking was a hobby. But after that project, I wanted to be a filmmaker, and I started doing film stuff whenever I had the time."

"That was the start of the passion," Kenney added.

Bartlett started his own company, Bartlett Productions, while Kenney "started working on some other things on my own... documentaries, live events, weddings. I didn't really have a business, I was just the girl with the camera."

Since then, however, Kenney has not only joined Bartlett in his production company on a full time basis, but they have also embarked on another passion project together: The Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy.

"We were throwing around the idea of doing something to help train new filmmakers," said Bartlett, adding that they were hoping to hone their own skills in the process.

"There's nothing like that around here — especially not for Christian filmmakers," Kenney added, noting that her own experiences working on a Christian feature film, as well as attending a Christian film festival in Texas, helped them to connect with others in the industry who were similarly faith-oriented.

In 2014, they launched the first MWCFA, a weeklong, hands-on filmmaking experience where they brought in teachers from as far away as Oklahoma and California, and as close as Vining, Minn. Kinney also enlisted the help of her mother, Lori Kenney, as logistics coordinator.

"I scout locations, do all the scheduling, arrange for lodging, and make all the food," says Lori Kenney with a smile.

The promotional film that their students produced, for the USA Spirit Christian TaeKwonDo Academy in Moorhead, won first place in the same Texas film festival that they had attended a year earlier as spectators.

Since then, the MWFCA has held two more summer filmmaking sessions, producing marketing films for two Detroit Lakes area businesses, Pins & Needles and Foltz Trucking.

"The first one was held at a Fargo hotel, the second was held at The Lodge (on Lake Detroit), where we did the film for Pins & Needles, and the third was held at Pins & Needles, where we did the film for Foltz Trucking," Lori Kenney said.

The fourth annual incarnation, set to take place June 18-24, will be moving from the lakes area to Park Rapids, where she has already arranged to use The Patio, which she describes as "a 10,000 square foot house that people rent out for events."

"We try to have everything all in one place," Hannah Kenney explained, noting that classes are usually held in the same building where the filming is done.

Bartlett said that each academy involves doing two films: One is a film where the students come up with a concept, and do all the planning and direction themselves, while the second is a professional product that is used by the actual businesses they contract with, to marketing themselves.

"The businesses all have these films up on their websites," Lori Kenney said.

"On the first film, the students do all the planning and film it themselves," Bartlett said. "They're the heads of each department, and they have us as crew members on their film.

"And then, for the other part, we shoot a film for a business that needs it, and they get the feel of working for a real client," he added.

"The on-set etiquette is that the teachers are the heads of their departments, and the students are learning by working on set as production assistants," Hannah Kenney said.

Though they haven't yet settled on a client for the Park Rapids film academy, registration for the June event opens this Thursday, Jan. 12. Those who are interested in signing up can go to the website at www.mwcfa.com to learn more.

Of course, in working with so many professionals on the film academy each year, both Bartlett and Kenney have learned quite a bit as well.

In fact, they put their skills to the test this past year by filming a promotional film for the New York Mills-based robotic dairy, Mursu Farms, for the AT & T Real Business Stories video contest — and did so well that they won the $10,000 first prize (Mursu Dairy also received $10,000 for their participation in the project).

"That was a real boost of confidence for them," Lori Kenney said.

What was even more impressive was the fact that Mursu Dairy was a last-minute choice as the subject for their film.

"We had been talking with another company that did underwater weed removal — I wanted to do some underwater stuff," Bartlett said. "But at the last minute it fell through."

"We had heard about this dairy that used robotic milkers, and we thought it was a cool idea," Hannah Kenney said. "We had rented out all this equipment, so we had to shoot, and we remembered them."

"We gave them a call and asked, 'Can we come film you?'" Bartlett said.

"They were really excited and welcoming," Kenney added.

"Plus it was a really good story," Bartlett continued, noting that the Mursus are a third generation farm family that had been faced with a dilemma a few years ago: Whether to invest in robotic milkers, or to downsize their operation.

"It's really expensive... but it's paid off for them," Lori Kenney said — and the extra $10,000 they received from the contest win probably doesn't hurt either.

As for the filmmakers, they said that the $10,000 prize has allowed them to invest more in their own equipment, rather than renting it as they have done in the past. With their own equipment, they are now able to devote more of their time to more personal, non-commercial projects, Hannah Kenney said — such as this past Monday's film shoot at a rural Lake Park farm, where they shot footage for a promotional video that a Pelican Rapids-area family plans to use to raise funds for an upcoming mission project in Angola, Africa.

Eduardo and Jocelyn DeSouza and their four young children are planning a trip to Angola this fall, for a long-term medical mission in the city of Lubango. Eduardo is a doctor, who received his medical training in his native Brazil and finished his medical degree in Mexico, which means he is fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish as well as speaking English, while Jocelyn, who is a licensed nurse practitioner, also speaks all three languages.

"I work for Health Resources in Detroit Lakes, and Hannah came in to shoot some pictures for them," says Jocelyn. "That's how we met. I asked her if they did videos, and that's how it all started.

"We plan to share this video with friends and area churches, to raise support for our mission and share what God has done in our lives," she added.

This is just one example of the kind of faith-based projects that the team behind Bartlett Productions and the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy hopes to do in the future.

"We want people to be able to do film as a career," Bartlett added — but to do so with a faith-based focus, and Christian values like honesty and integrity in all of their business dealings.

"Build a career, not a hobby, that's our motto," Kenney added. "We are so grateful for all the opportunities that God has given us, and the people who have supported us."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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