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Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Tonje Hessen Schei (Praying for Armageddon)

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Director Tonje Hessen Schei dives into the world of fundamentalist Evangelicals, and their goal to help bring about the return of Jesus Christ, in Praying for Armageddon. We posed our Qs à la mode to Tonje, and here’s what she shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Revelatory, hard-hitting, urgent.

I decided to make this film because: The issue of U.S. fundamentalist Evangelicals working for the destruction of our civilization couldn’t be timelier and more urgent. Both when it comes to the situation in the U.S. today and the volatile situation in the Middle East.

When I first moved to the States, I was surprised by the lack of news from Israel/Palestine and, in consequence, the lack of knowledge about this region amongst Americans. I married into a mixed Evangelical and American-Jewish family, and became increasingly aware and curious about the stronghold fundamentalist Evangelicals have in the U.S.

So, when I started looking into the hidden agenda of the U.S. Evangelicals, who see it as their responsibility to act out God’s will by speeding up the Armageddon prophecy to enable the Second Coming of Christ, I knew we had to make this film.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: How fundamentalist Evangelicals make up a worldwide movement of believers preparing for The Holy War. To see how they interpret the Bible literally, where the citation “those who bless Israel shall be blessed” creates a dangerous and apocalyptic support of Israel that destabilizes the situation in Israel/Palestine and in the Middle East.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: The Knighting Ceremony, where our biker minister, Gary Burd, knights his followers. It is rare to get so close to a group of believers, and this scene really conveys their passion and deep personal faith.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Getting access, and lifting a large international team during Covid.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Miro, an online whiteboard platform. Working with local teams in the U.S., Israel and Palestine, it was invaluable for me as a director to have Miro boards for storyboarding and script writing – through preproduction, production and editing. It enabled a deeper creative collaboration, and made it easier to make sure all of our teams were aligned across borders and continents.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Always take good care of your team! Filmmaking to me is magic, really. We are really doing something that is quite impossible, which requires a bit of madness. At the core of this is team effort. Creating a space were trust and openness rule is crucial for me. This also makes filmmaking so much more fun, creates deep friendships, and gives your life a deeper meaning and purpose.

Want to check out Tonje’s film or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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