The Distant Boat Puts Wind Into the Sails of African Missions
Behind every film there's a story. And behind those stories are storytellers: people like you and me with a passion for sharing something that is worth all the blood, sweat and tears that go into producing something people like you and me are going to spend our valuable time and money watching, reading or listening to.
For this story we must travel to the gridlocked streets of Nairobi where we meet the fictional Max, a young urban Kenyan who heads to the coast on business where he befriends a Muslim. Our very real characters who help tell Max's story in The Distant Boat (2013, 121 min.) include Americans Ted and Mike, two missionary bush pilots who went from moving people with planes to moving people with stories. In 2007 On Field Media (a ministry of Africa Inland Mission) was launched and before long Andy and another Mike joined up.
The African continent is famous for its indigenous storytellers. Africans themselves, if I am allowed to generalize for a moment, are adept consumers of such stories if the film productions coming out of Nollywood (Nigeria), Sollywood (South Africa) or Gollywood (Ghana) have anything to say about it. A thriving informal market of Hollywood and Bollywood genres, combined with widespread satellite TV access, means my citified African friends are very up to date on the latest films and TV shows.
So it just makes sense that missions mobilizers within Africa should take advantage of this obsession with films that Africans across the continent share. Especially in a place where the written word struggles to find acceptance. And that's where Finish the Task and Good News Productions International come in.
GNPI “equips the body of Christ with culturally relevant media and technology to accelerate global evangelism”. They have offices around the world and their Kenyan branch was uniquely equipped to provide the project with insider access to the Kenyan film industry while FTT was eager to have this story told in order to move the hearts and minds of potentially millions of Kenyan believers.
But that’s thinking too small. Outside of Kenya, a 40-nation network called the Movement of African National Initiatives was also beginning to get excited about a film project that would, like the Jesus film, live on for many years and could potentially serve as one of their greatest recruitment tools.
Max's story of meeting the Muslim fisherman Yusuf, told in English with a smattering of Swahili, is truly a film made for Africans. It is a story poised to spread rapidly now that the Swahili dub is finished (as June 2015) and by 2016, French. Those two languages combined will add an additional 250 million potential viewers. A Portuguese subtitled edition is also in the works for a mid 2015 release (useful in Mozambique and Angola as well as in Brazil where missions mobilizers are gaining steam as they focus on Muslim ministry. Yes, the filmmakers report that even South Americans are finding much to love and relate to in Max’s spiritual underdog story).
The Distant Boat is the story of how one up-and-coming young Kenyan man, Max (Kamicha Muchiri), finds himself in the home of a Muslim family. Sent to the Kenyan coast on a business trip, he is robbed by some local hoodlums and taken in by a caring local Muslim fisherman, Yusef (Claude Judah). He comes to love this family and when he returns to the city, he is unable to simply fall back into his normal routine. He becomes convinced that God wants him to move to the coast but those he is closest to try to discourage him from such a foolhardy decision.
His girlfriend, Ruth (Ruth Maingi) can't picture a life in the village away from comfort and family. His best friend begins to feel betrayed in the pact the two of them made as children to beat the odds and become successful one day. Even his pastor offers caution and warns him of the financial challenges their church faces, the needs closer to home always more pressing.
While Max may be fictional, his story at large has an uncanny ability to resonate mostly with African missionaries. In the showing I attended, my Malawian, Tanzanian and Kenyan missionary friends were clearly emotional and proclaimed the struggles that Max faced were spot-on with their own.
The journey into missions is not easy for anyone, especially not for a modern African whose family has worked so hard to bring a comfortable existence to their children.
The making of The Distant Boat would prove challenging from the onset. From the origin of an idea, it took more than two years to craft and shape into a film. This group of foreigners six-strong had experience in telling the stories of those around them, but moving to film narrative is a whole new genre and must be produced in an entirely different way. Relationships and team capacities were stretched to the limit. And films cost money. Lots of money. Who would pony up with the 70,000+ U.S. dollars? (Wycliffe Bible Translators and about one hundred smaller donors, it would turn out).
This massive undertaking would eventually involve 223 cast, crew, and extras working over 47 production days logging 82 hours of footage followed by 10 months of post-production with 54 minutes of original music.
After this collosal effort, would the film even be any good, they wondered? Something they could proudly credit their names to without cringing?
Associate Producer Mike Delorenzo shares on his blog that
at a commissioning for the film project with local church leaders before we began shooting, one of the pastors stood up and expressed his support and resolve.
‘There could be no better time for getting this into action other than this time in which we are.’
Our crew feels the same. It is truly a golden hour for the church here in Africa. They are poised to step up and become a major force for missions on the continent. And perhaps a movie, that has the potential to become a movement, is just the kind of catalyst they need. For the many millions of Africans who remain unreached: living without knowledge of Christ or bound to ancient beliefs, time is of the essence.
Learn more at DistantBoat.com.
For image stills and movie poster, see the press kit at distantboat.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Cowley has spent over a decade working with a sub Saharan Muslim tribe know as the Yawo doing spiritual and community development. While he isn’t associated in any way with “The Distant Boat”, he was so impressed as a visual storyteller with the film and its message that he felt led to promote it wherever possible. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.