Decades-old film speaks to modern issues

“It’s a timeless piece,” says David Dueck, producer of And When They Shall Ask. “It’s not just a Mennonite story; it’s a human rights issue.” The feature-length docu-drama about Mennonites, which focuses particularly on the experience in Imperial and Soviet Russia, has been re-released on DVD in 2010 with 50 minutes of bonus features added. The movie was first released in 1984 and has played in theatres across Canada and the U.S., and on CBC and PBS.

This story of faith and hardship is “not about somebody else,” says director John Morrow in the bonus features, “it’s about all of us.”

By re-releasing the film, the producers hope to make the story available again in a visual age, and to “make people think about the times we’re living in,” says producer Toni Dueck. Just like the Mennonites in Imperial Russia, “we’re living in a golden era, in a sense.”

Bonus features on the DVD contain modern-day interviews. Writer and director John Morrow’s voice cracks as he remembers filming the aged survivors whose recollections pepper the film. Producer David Dueck explains how a strong wind almost shut down the production when it was near completion, and composer Victor Davies, who adapted his Mennonite Piano Concerto to serve as the movie’s soundtrack, explains why it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

The DVD also contains feature interviewee Jake Sawatzky’s personal story, “Bread from Heaven,” about providential provision of food for his family during the Russian famine which prompted the establishment of Mennonite Central Committee. Cartoonist Lorlie Barkman illustrated the anecdote.

Supporters, participants, and media representatives attended a special launch Oct. 24 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Baroque-music vocal ensemble Canzona also took the stage to present highlights from Lasst die Herzen immer fröhlich – their second project of classic hymns sung in German. When director Henry Engbrecht turned to invite the audience to join in, the hall swelled with the sound of four-part harmony. There were also public showings in Manitoba churches throughout November.

Though the film is more than 25 years old, it continues to affect its viewers. Even non-Mennonites and those whose family history is not depicted have been interested in the film, says Dueck.

—Karla Braun

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