We would like to give special thanks to the United Church of Christ, and Reverend Robert Chase, for generous support in helping us complete post-production of ZENITH. The UCC's concern for the future the American Family Farmer, and for small town churches, is unprecedented.
YOU ARE INVITED TO THIS YEAR'S PERFORMANCE OF THE GREAT PLAINS PASSION PLAY!
THE PASSION PLAY WILL BE PERFORMED IN ZENITH, KANSAS, THIS YEAR - 2004, ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHTS, MAY 7th and MAY 8th. It is a free production, and the performance starts at sundown, around 8 pm. For more information go to www.guyelliott-artist.com/passionplay.ivnu
THANKS FOR COMING TO OUR WEBSITE! ZENITH is the winner of a special "Crystal Teddy Award" for Best Documentary" at the 2004, 12TH ANNUAL MOVIEGUIDE AWARDS! It's also a nominee for the prestigious TEMPLETON EPIPHANY PRIZE. Cross your fingers!
ABOUT OUR FILM! ZENITH is a feature documentary about farming, faith, and the resilience of the human spirit. This film is dedicated to the people of Zenith and Stafford, Kansas, whose courage, faith, and humor are an inspiration to us all. ZENITH was directed, shot, and produced by native Kansan, Kirsten Tretbar. ZENITH was Kirsten's directorial debut.
ZENITH was filmed in 1999 over a period of 5 months in Zenith, Kansas -- a wheat and cattle farming town of 30 and in the neighboring town of Stafford, Kansas, pop. 1,500. The story focuses on The Great Plains Passion Play and the farmers, cowboys, ranchers, retirees, women and children who put on this outdoor drama about the life of Jesus.
The film follows many stories of the people in the play: the handsome oilrig worker playing Jesus on the cross, the town's banker, another Jesus, ascending into heaven, the co-op grain elevator manager, big and charismatic, plays Jesus on trial. Several 40-something farmers play Apostles. The local vet plays Herod. Lawyers, doctors, and insurance brokers play Pharisees. Rough and rugged construction workers and cowboys (who don't go to church, but like to dress in Roman armor!) play thuggish Roman guards. And the town's funny hairstylist does make-up.
The film explores ways the play has become a mission, not just for audiences who come to watch, but more for the people who are in it. When the selling price of a bushel of wheat is the same as it was in 1948, and a combine costs a quarter of a million dollars, it's impossible to make a living.
For years, Zenith's story was much the same as those of many other rural communities. Years of unprofitable farming had taken their toll in poverty, alcoholism, divorce, and rural exodus. Church attendance, a true bellwether of civic engagement in a conservative mid-western town, was alarmingly low. One by one, people who were committed to the town and concerned about its future began to take steps toward reclaiming a sense of hope. Small groups began to gather to reflect on their lives and redirect themselves toward community renewal. And Guy Elliott, the play's director, brought the passion play to town!
A Passion Play is a theatrical production dramatizing the life of Jesus. People are more familiar with the term "The Passion" since the release of Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Traditionally a Catholic ritualized Easter play, professional and amateur Passion Plays have been performed all over the world for hundreds of years, most famously in Oberammergau, Germany. It is not, however, typical for hardworking middle-aged Midwestern Scotch-Irish Protestant farmers to make time between planting and harvest to dress up as Roman soldiers and Pharisees, let alone be lifted up on a cross and crucified in front of their friends and neighbors. And yet for eight years, the farmers of Zenith have done exactly that; the play has come to draw participants from local churches of all denominations. Last year, two thousand people from Wichita, Great Bend and Hutchinson came to sit on lawn chairs and hay bales to watch as night fell and the play unfolded on a pasture the width of two football fields. The story of crucifixion and resurrection is the story of ZENITH.
The town's attitude about the play is heartbreaking and inspiring. Even though these are terrible times economically for the Midwestern farmer and rancher, this community has worked hard to stay inspired about life. Every man in town starts growing his beard in the fall for his spring performance as either a Roman soldier, an Apostle, or Jesus. Church ladies, retired Home-Ec. teachers or farm wives, make costumes out of old curtains. Props are made by hand with piping and gold spray-paint, or bought from the Wal-Mart in Pratt, 30 miles away. Lighting is a bank of deer lights powered by batteries taken out of pick-ups. Retired farmers build sets as if raising a barn…nothing a little bailing wire and duct tape can't fix. Cowhands and Co-op workers ride their own cutting horses as horse guards.
Learning to sacrifice, and accept that "this too shall pass" is a part of every person's journey into a mature and wise life. But a farmer's life, his very survival, begins and ends on these concepts of sacrifice and compromise. Jesus on the cross, as seen in the play, is a profound metaphor for the farmer's struggle. ZENITH elevates the farm crisis to a universal story of redemption, by offering a hopeful portrait of a community's faith, humor, and strength in the face of adversity.