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"There was joy and much laughter in this farming town’s story, but also a pathos that was unbearable at times. Shooting the film became for me a poetic, spiritual meditation on this sacred land that produces food for the world. The landscape and the people in it, like the passion play they created, took on a God-like divinity. Everywhere I looked, the sky touched the edge of the world. I began to intuitively understand for the first time why farm people are so connected to the land and to God. It's a connection to a higher power.
It is, quite simply, being alive.”
-- Director Kirsten Tretbar (Pictured in the PRODUCERS Section)
ZENITH was photographed, produced, and directed by Kirsten Tretbar. Tretbar worked on digital video shooting on the Canon XL-1 (over 100 hours of footage). Tretbar's farming cousin, Lesa Paulsen, made the film with Kirsten, and worked as a Producer on the film. This film could not have been made without Lesa's farming expertise!
Kirsten Tretbar was born in Cleveland and spent her first two years of life living in Twickenham, England. She grew up by a lake in Shawnee, Kansas in suburban Kansas City. Her extended family are all wheat farmers and cattle ranchers in Stafford County, Kansas, where Kirsten went every summer to work wheat harvest with her brother Eric, staying with cousins, Lesa and Steve Paulsen and her Aunt Dwilette Paulsen (key characters in the film).
Tretbar received a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Grinnell College, Iowa in ’89, where she did her senior thesis/ Ethnography on a group of Women Quilters in the rural town of Grinnell. There she studied the importance of folk/amateur art in women's lives. In 1989, Kirsten moved to LA, where she got her Masters in Theater from USC in ’91. At USC she focused on the Anthropology of Performance, and studied drama as ritual. There she acted in several leading roles such as Lyubov in Chekov’s, THE CHERRY ORCHARD. After drama school she became assistant to LA acting coach, Caitlin Adams, a famous Lee Strasberg “Method” teacher. During this time, she acted in commercials and television.
In ’91, Tretbar met English filmmaker, Derek Goodall, an “old school”, well-known BBC documentary director. With Goodall, Kirsten learned the art of documentary filmmaking, and ran UK/LA based Goodwood Productions until 1997. She produced dozens of documentaries abroad -- hiring crews, overseeing edits, and managing large production budgets for art and music programs for the BBC and ITV networks.
In 1996, Goodwood became the private production company for the Sultan of Brunei. For 14 months, Kirsten worked exclusively in Southeast Asia, as an executive producer, filming royal Brunei events such as world-class polo matches, international soccer, and rock concerts.
In 1998, Tretbar resigned from Goodwood, and moved back to Kansas City, and during this time, she went back to Zenith, Kansas to see her cousins act in the town’s new GREAT PLAINS PASSION PLAY. That very night, May 9th, 1998, Kirsten knew she had to make a documentary about the play, and what she saw as a rebirth of a formally dying farm town. She spent the next year filming the story, and another two years editing the film with Derek Goodall. The film was finally completed in Fall 200l. Although Kirsten produced dozens of TV programs, ZENITH is her first film, her directorial and DP debut.
Filmmaking runs in the Tretbar family. Kirsten’s brother, Eric, is an Indie Filmmaker, and is best known for his subtle black and white Minneapolis Rock and Roll features: THE USUAL, and SNOW – which have both won awards at The Berlin Film Festival (Audience Favorite at THE FORUM) and LAIFF. SNOW gained Eric a nomination for an "Independent Spirit Award" in 1999, for SOMEONE TO WATCH, and aired on The Sundance Channel for the last two years. Eric recently shot his third feature film in the Twin Cities (which he also wrote and produced) called HE'S MY THING. Kirsten co-produced HE'S MY THING and, incidentally, Kirsten's husband, Ozzy Benn, starred in the movie, playing the lead role of "James". The movie is currently being edited.
Kirsten and Ozzy run two comapanies, PRAIRIE FIRE FILMS, LLC, a production company, and TOXIC DESIGN (www.toxicdesign.com), an Interactive New Media Design and Marketing Company. After spending a year promoting ZENITH in Kansas City in 2003, Kirsten and Ozzy decided to move back to Los Angeles, to pursue other film jobs. Kirsten is currently writing a narrative feature script, which she hopes to direct next year, and Ozzy is busy auditioning for films. They are both working closely with Eric's companies, WINTER LIGHT FILMS and MOD EXPLOSION LLC, on his fourth feature to be shot this summer.
Kirsten has also been a visiting professor at her Alma Mater, Grinnell College, in Grinnell Iowa, for the last two years. Grinnell was just voted "Best Overall College" by Newsweek Magazine (2003). There she teaches a three week, intensive upper level seminar for the WILSON BOARD in Enterprise in the Arts - The Business of Independent Documentary Filmmaking" - a joint Anthropology/Theatre course - part of the Prairie Studies curriculum as well. Kirsten's class was voted by many students their favorite class at Grinnell. Kirsten says, "Teaching documentary filmmaking at Grinnell has been such an amazing adventure! I'm working hard to train a whole new generation of documentarians! I'm loving it!"
Kirsten is available to teach at other universities and institutions as well. Feel free to email her if you want more information about her course.