Kevin Wells will be joining us with his film Brother Jesse. Here are some questions to let you get to know more about him!
What is your connection to the South?
I was born and raised in Williamston, North Carolina, which is a small town in the eastern part of the state. I moved to Durham, North Carolina in 2007 and really love it.
Where did you get your inspiration for this work?
I have always been interested in extremism, especially when it intersects with religion, and most of my films deal with extremism in one form or another. One of my influences for Brother Jesse is a book called The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. It focuses on commonalities between fanatics of all ideologies, and outlines the traits and experiences of people that gravitate towards extremism. Brother Jesse is the second film I have made on campus preachers. I made a short film several years ago called Brother Micah (which screened at Indie Grits), and it focused mainly on his preaching. In Brother Jesse, I wanted to make a longer film that delved more into Jesse’s background and motivations. The film offered me the opportunity to explore some of the ideas of The True Believer in documentary form.
How did you start making films?
I made my first documentary for a class project in an undergraduate world religion course. The short film explored issues that both connected and divided local Christian denominations. While the film would now be a source of embarrassment, the reaction from people really struck me. It sparked discussion and debate about issues I deeply cared about in ways I never could have imagined. I knew immediately that documentary filmmaking was for me.
Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?
There were some funny moments, but I’d like to focus on an interesting aspect of production. Jesse is offensive to most people, so it’s not uncommon to have confrontations with police and college administrators. However, the most surprising aspect was the amount of hostility from college students towards my filming. Students would routinely tell me I shouldn’t be there, or would call the police to have me removed. It boiled down to this: they found Jesse extremely offensive, and therefore believed he didn’t have a right to be on campus. And because I was making a film that wouldn’t overtly condemn him, I should be removed as well. I found this ironic, as their behavior mirrored their complaints about Jesse. I should clarify that many students I talked with were supportive, but the level of attempted suppression was really disappointing.
What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?
I love both meeting other filmmakers and talking with people interested in film. I got into filmmaking as an opportunity to spark discussion about things I care about. I’ll never forgot a moment from my previous screening at Indie Grits. Late at night after my screening, someone approached me to discuss my film. I was shocked that someone took such an in-depth interest. We talked for a long time about the ideas in the film, and it was probably the first time I could call myself a filmmaker without feeling like a fraud!
Why should someone see your film?
Brother Jesse is a documentary about a confrontational traveling campus preacher. It raises interesting questions on religious extremism and freedom of speech, and provides an in-depth portrayal of someone reviled by most of society. While the film can be offensive, I tried to use an empathetic approach that focused on understanding Jesse and his motivations.