Humans of Adventism Film Series to Share Personal Stories
Humans of Adventism creator Kaleb Eisele talks about his new film project, in collaboration with the North American Division, that will showcase a diverse array of Adventists across the continent.
Question: You have just finished filming for a new series based on your popular Humans of Adventism project. When the editing and production is finished, what can viewers expect to see?
Answer: The Humans of Adventism docuseries is a 10-episode journey through the lives of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States. Each episode centers a single topic like miracles, values, or COVID-19 and shares the experiences of three different Adventists relating to the topic.
We didn’t just want talking heads, we wanted to spend time showing a little bit of what each person’s environments looked like. Their hometowns and workplaces. Their homes. More than the stories in words, expect an immersive walk through Adventism in many different contexts visually as well.
The 10-episode series is being produced under the auspices of the Adventist Learning Community and the North American Division. Was it their idea or did you approach them for sponsorship?
I’ve been in conversations with the Adventist Learning Community ever since they took over leadership of The Haystack when I was a writer there, just as I was beginning to put Humans of Adventism together. I’ve collaborated with them on projects like the Advent Next podcast and others in the past, but they reached out late 2019 to ask if I would send any creative project proposals their way.
Because Humans of Adventism and ALC have been in close contact in the past, I don’t have a specific moment I can point to when they first became aware that I wanted to create a film series. The project was approved early 2020, and the trailer was first shown publicly during the North American Division’s Year-end Meetings during Adventist Learning Community’s project spotlights.
Since the series is being produced for the church, I imagine you have had to cede some creative control?
I wouldn’t say this series is being produced “for” the church as much as “in collaboration with” the church, but there is some truth to that. So far our working relationship has been a good one, and their sponsorship only extends to the film project itself, so I believe this is a healthy way to collaborate while both holding to our values.
Humans of Adventism itself remains independent, but we have the opportunity to work alongside the church on a specific project like this.
How will the series be made available? Will viewers be able to stream it free?
Minimally the series will be available on Facebook, IGTV, and YouTube. It will be available for free as with all of our work, and we are looking into additional avenues beyond our current options to make it as accessible as possible.
When will it be released?
Filming was completed in September and we are well into the editing and approval processes, so our goal is to release the first episode in January — a specific date will be determined in the next month or so.
Who is your target audience? How will it be marketed?
Our target audience is people who want to get to know the Seventh-day Adventists as a people group. Much in the way we’ve approached storytelling in the past, this series is not a theological one. It’s intended for Seventh-day Adventists to see the diversity of experiences existing beneath the denominational umbrella, as well as for people who want to get a look beyond our beliefs into the people who hold them.
Our marketing strategy is simple: showcasing the human experience through the lens of Seventh-day Adventists.
What is the idea behind the film series? Why is it important? You wanted to tell the stories of a variety of different Adventists, with different experiences and backgrounds? Make an opportunity for different voices to be heard? I suppose it is the same idea as the original Humans of Adventism project?
The series is born of the same heart as our other stories — it comes from the belief that our capacity to love is increased by our capacity to listen. We become a community not when we share a label, but when we’re exposed to each other’s experiences and take the time to internalize them.
The series has one notable exception: we wanted to physically share space with people and interview from that place. We didn’t just show up and start filming. We went on morning walks with people in their neighborhoods. We sat in their churches and fellowship halls. We cooked together, ate together, met people at their workplaces. It wasn’t expedient, but I believe the end result of being with people in places they called their own really affected our ability to authentically share the worlds around each person.
And how is the original Humans of Adventism project going? I believe you started in 2017? You are still posting stories regularly? Do most readers engage through Facebook, Instagram, your website, or other platforms?
Humans of Adventism has grown more quickly than I ever could have expected. I slowed down on releasing interviews in late 2020 due to the combination of COVID, wildfires, and the increased workload of preparing our film series, but we will resume those soon. HoA has always lived primarily on Facebook and Instagram, and I plan to continue that.
As for where people engage the most — that really depends on the story. Our Instagram audience skews younger while our Facebook audience skews older, so a story that really resonates on one often is far less popular on the other.
How do you decide who to feature?
I don’t know that I do too much gatekeeping on who to feature, but there are several things that readers may not have thought about.
Does the person I hope to interview respond to my messages? Are they willing to share a meaningful, personal experience? Are they interested in sharing a story primarily to promote a product or event, or are they keeping with the page’s intended purpose of sharing a personal life story? Is sharing their story going to harm them or someone else? Has the page leaned heavily into one particular demographic for a long time?
Between these questions, the stories are sourced from a combination of me reaching out to just about every Adventist I can think of and the occasional submission to our email.
And how did you decide who to feature in the film series? Are they the same people you have featured previously? Did you try to find Adventists who are a little different than the stereotypical Adventist mold, like for instance, LGBT Adventists or people struggling with their faith, or something else?
I hope for a future when LGBT Adventists will be able to share their stories freely on church-sponsored projects. As things stand, we do not have any open LGBT Adventists in these 10 episodes for risk of getting our project pulled, but we will continue intentionally sharing and seeking out stories in our independent work.
As for “the Adventist mold,” I’m discovering that this is hard to pin down, but we did make an intentional effort to reach out to as diverse of a collection of Adventists as we could without having the project scrapped. We certainly aren’t photoshopping out jewelry or hiding tattoos.
I believe now that your full-time job is with the Oregon Conference, is that right? What are you doing there?
I am not and have never been an employee of the Oregon Conference. Our conference has offered an alternative contract working relationship with creatives like myself and Justin Khoe. So, while I do facilitate and share stories through the conference’s social media pages from their membership, I work on several other creative contracts for others as well.
How much time are you able to devote to Humans of Adventism and this film series? You have people helping you?
We have spent the better part of a year working on the film series alone, but in general I spend a day or two each week working on Humans of Adventism-related things. I’ve been blessed this year to be able to hire a small team for the series including Justin Khoe of the I’m Listening podcast and VJ Matias of Tell Them Creatives.
The one thing I always do is the interviews. Sitting with people and listening to their stories is what I’m really able to offer as a ministry, and being able to create that space of trust, safety, and curiosity is something I always want to make time to do.
And what other projects are you working on?
In 2020 I’ve been attached to several projects. I share two stories a week here in the Oregon Conference on a project called Oregon Adventist Stories.
I help as auxiliary staff, story editor, and occasional cameraman for the I’m Listening podcast with Justin Khoe.
I am the cohost of a new “How the Church Works” podcast that was announced at the North American Division’s Year-end Meetings with Heather Moor and Nina Vallado.
I helped produce the new Growing Together podcast with Growing Young Adventists alongside Justin Khoe and Natalia Perez-Gonzalez.
And I spend as much time as I can guest teaching communication classes, hosting Zoom communications events, and helping Adventist creatives brainstorm and launch projects of their own.
What do you see as the future for Humans of Adventism?
I believe the foundation of Humans of Adventism is solid — the simple commitment to sharing meaningful experiences and life stories of Seventh-day Adventists. My goals for the future are just to make them as accessible as possible, ideally through all of the main ways people interact with stories in media: social media posts, film, podcasting, and books.
But the purpose will always remain the same. I want to tear down walls, build bridges, and generate empathy both between Adventists, and with the world around us.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photo courtesy of Kaleb Eisele. Photo credit: Phillip Warfield.
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