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Harvard or Hollywood? An Interview with Filmmaker Cris Krusen
Harvard or Hollywood? An Interview with Filmmaker Cris Krusen

Harvard or Hollywood? An Interview with Filmmaker Cris Krusen

When he was 18-20 years old, director Cristobal Krusen [THE BILL COLLECTOR, FINAL SOLUTION] was not a Christian and had no sympathy or interest in Christianity. His interest was in literature and writing, not filmmaking.

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Somewhere along the way to best-selling author, his interests turned to film. Then when he found Jesus, he found his life's calling.

Jump to…
In the Beginning
Spiritual Quest
People Captured His Heart
Movies Can Lead People to the Lord
Struggle for Equality
15,000 Decisions for Christ
Great Tool in the Right Hands
It's a Marathon

In the Beginning
"I entered Harvard as an English literature major. I skipped the first year and traveled around the world. I spent most of that year in Australia and kept a journal, thinking I'd turn that into a book and become a published author. I had those kinds of thoughts and dreams.

"While I was in Australia, I bought a 35 mm single-lens reflex camera and began taking pictures as well. It was in the process of learning still photography that I became interested in composition in photography. Then when I started at Harvard, I began to watch classic films from other countries that were shown on campus by various film societies. I remember seeing several Italian, Russian, English, and Japanese films. And I took a very introductory filmmaking course. It dawned on me that filmmaking combined several disciplines in one.

"Literature, through the screenplay; photography through the process of shooting the film; music through the soundtrack, etc. I was also interested in acting. These different disciplines began to converge, and I thought what I wanted to do was become a filmmaker.

"Because Harvard didn't have a film department, I withdrew from there. I went to the University of Texas at Austin, where they had a school of Radio, Television and Cinema. I studied there for a year then dropped out of school altogether for a year. I ended up in New York City and ended up at New York University, where I did graduate in 1976. I began to work for a local company there in New York City."

Spiritual Quest
Cris's spiritual quest began in New York City, where he was searching for truth, wondering if there was more to existence than what met the eye. "I wondered if there was a spiritual reality as well as the physical reality. I looked under all the rocks I could find, from occultism, to Eastern religions, to Islam, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, etc. After I eliminated all the other possibilities, the last major religion left was Christianity.

"So I began to read the Bible. When I read the Sermon on the Mount, that in particular struck me forcefully that I had at last encountered the truth I was searching for. The wisdom, the person of Jesus, the way He spoke and the things He said, it just struck me as incredibly relevant, contemporary and timeless. It really did change my life and point me in the direction of investigating Christianity more.

"After I had read the Bible for probably six months, my mother-in-law had recommitted her life to Christ in the wake of a personal tragedy. She began to invite my wife to services with her. I didn't want to go initially, but the more I read the Bible, the more interested I became. When my wife brought home an NIV version of the New Testament, I began reading that, and it opened my eyes to other aspects of the faith kept hidden behind the King James language."

People Captured His Heart
"That got my interest even more, and I began going to church. It was a very diverse congregation in Staten Island, kind of a United Nations in terms of the nationalities represented. I felt so comfortable there. But it wasn't the sermons so much as it was the choir and the people themselves who captured my heart.

"It was a charismatic type of church, and the choir sang with such feeling and passion. I didn't know you could sing like that in a church. I didn't know you could show emotion in a church service. The people who were members of the church would gather around me and my wife and just love on us. I remember I'd take a handkerchief with me when I went because I'd always end up crying.

"I didn't grow up in a church so part of it I didn't understand, but a few months later I went up and made a commitment to the Lord. It was probably another three months when I truly surrendered my life to Christ."

Movies Can Lead People to the Lord
After his conversion, Cris realized that movies could be produced that would communicate the truths of the Gospel and lead people to the Lord. Because he cut his teeth on making Spanish-language films, he didn't know other people had made evangelistic films. At the same time, he felt a desire to be a missionary.

"I became a missionary through my filmmaking. Understanding the Latino culture and speaking Spanish and being a new filmmaker, I began to think, 'I'm going to make films in Spanish to help people find the Lord.' My first films were in Spanish to Spanish-speaking audiences. They have since been translated into over 15 languages and been shown in Africa, Asia and Europe.

"So I was already seeing that God would bless an effort like that, and He'd use something like that to speak to people and capture their hearts. So it wasn't a jump to think of making a film in South Africa. In fact, I've not made an American film. All of my filmmaking experience has been overseas. I guess I'm thought of more as an international filmmaker than an American filmmaker.

Struggle for Equality
"There were some specific things that interested me about South Africa. One was the racial conflict that was going on in the country at the time. The idea for FINAL SOLUTION came to me in the late 80s. I had followed that whole struggle for equality in South Africa, and the discrimination that people of color experienced under apartheid.

"In the process of writing that script, I did an enormous amount of research about the country. Then in the early 90s I began making survey trips to South Africa. They were investigative trips and I met with a lot of people, black and white, Christian and non-Christian. I began to inquire and learn more about the country and its history and search for story material. It was a process of several years until finally I came across a man named Gerrit Wolfaardt, the man in the story of FINAL SOLUTION.

"But even before finding him, the idea I had was to make a film about someone who had had a kind of Saul of Tarsus experience, someone who had violent angry feelings about black South Africans, but who, through a conversion to Christianity, came to love those people he used to hate and destroy. And that became the story of FINAL SOLUTION. It's based on the story of a white supremacist who had a plan to obliterate the black population of South Africa, much like Saul had a plan to obliterate the church. But through an encounter with God, he became an apostle of peace and love.

"It was several years before we were able to make the film. Raising the money was difficult, and the project appeared to have totally fallen off the radar, and the production did not appear at all probable. But God resurrected it and we quickly moved into production."

15,000 Decisions for Christ
Cris began to get reports from a South African-based and run ministry that uses FINAL SOLUTION for ministry in the township areas of South Africa. These are the poorest areas of the country, and in a 6-month period of time, they recorded more than 15,000 decisions for Christ by the people who viewed the film. "That blessed me tremendously to read that, and it was a little unexpected. I'd like to think the film has that effect on everyone who views it, but realistically, it's more of a pre-evangelistic film. That was a great blessing.

"The other blessings for me are when people who don't know Christ in a personal way see the film and comment favorably on it. To me, that's an encouraging sign because the film is very Christian at its core, and we're planting seeds in people's lives."

Cris's vision continues to be driven by missionary fervor. "When I became a Christian, my strategy to become a successful Hollywood filmmaker got turned upside-down and thrown out the window. I didn't see how filmmaking connected to God's kingdom and I didn't understand what a missionary was. But that's what I wanted to be."

Great Tool in the Right Hands
Cris did get to serve as a missionary with a group called Latin American Mission in Florida for a couple of years. They had him doing audio/visuals and video production. "It seemed I could never totally get away from the media. I wasn't really involved with evangelism, but support of the missionaries.

"As I prayed and fasted, I began to receive this revelation that filmmaking in the right hands wasn't this terrible thing I thought. I realized that in the right hands, it was a great tool for reaching the lost. I began to embrace filmmaking again and picked it back up. I was determined to use film as a means to spread the Gospel.

"That's what drives me. It's not one language or country, but reaching the human race with the message, through all means possible. Low-budget, high-budget, pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, wherever."

It's a Marathon
THE BILL COLLECTOR, Cris's most recent film, recently released on DVD. He's also busy on several writing projects, getting a lot of work as a screenwriter. One came through an introduction from another writer; another had seen some of his films. He also has a plan and vision for mentoring other filmmakers from overseas.

"I could help them organize their lives and desires for making films and hopefully help in the training and financing process to enable other filmmakers from around the world, often poorer countries, where there aren't as many opportunities. I'd like to help them make films to reach their own nation, or other countries or people-groups that they have a burden to reach.

"At least once a month I'll get an email from someone from another country who wants to be a filmmaker and make films for Christ, but they don't know how to get started. My heart goes out to them, and I want to help them, but we're just in the early stages of developing an infrastructure to help them fulfill their desires. We don't yet have the resources or connections to move forward."

Cris's advice to other filmmakers is to persevere. The race is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to be prepared for the long haul. "Endure. Don't give up. A real filmmaker won't give up because it's in his nature to be stubborn and not take 'no' for an answer. But when you do feel like giving up, take a deep breath and look toward the hills from whence cometh your help."

©2011 ChristianCinema.com


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