• Last modified 775 days ago (Aug. 8, 2019)


Filmmaker turns residents into actors

Staff writer

Two weeks before the latest mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Emily Railsback returned to her hometown of Hillsboro to create a short film about gun violence from the perspective of a Mennonite woman.

One actor was Aleen Ratzlaff. Dan Kinning, and Evan and Becky Yoder also were involved, along with unnamed extras. Some characters were from outside the area.

Ratzlaff is a teacher at Tabor College, and Railsback, a Tabor graduate, was a student of hers.

When Railsback contacted her about playing a part in the film, she sent a video and was accepted.

“I was a little intimidated about doing it, but it turned out to be a positive experience,” Ratzlaff said.

She played a small role as Deb Hiebert, a school secretary. She had short speaking parts in several scenes and an improvised part in another.

She said it was a learning experience about how a film is produced. Scenes were photographed from numerous angles, and some short scenes took a long time to film. In editing, parts from one scene were placed in another scene.

Scenes were shot at the elementary school, First Mennonite Church, and Norel Farms Bakery.

“Emily has wanted to make this film for a long time,” Ratzlaff said. “It is supposed to be a conversation starter. It is really relevant for today.”

Railsback was interviewed by Tim Huber for the Aug. 5 edition of “Mennonite World Review.”

Railsback teaches film at Columbia College in Chicago. She is still a member of Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro and attends Chicago Community Mennonite Church.

The film focuses on a woman who is a pacifist and struggles with a husband who supports legislation that would require teachers to carry guns in school.

Railsback praised the locals for coming together to support her efforts with catering, lodging, and casting.

“That’s a sense of community you couldn’t get in Chicago,” she said.

One scene featured a Mennonite potluck, and in another, they were eating zwieback and verenika.

Railsback said it’s easier to tell a story that highlights multiple viewpoints in a rural setting than in a city.

She and lead actor Kristen Bush of Sterling are concerned about rural/urban divisions. They see the project as a way to build bridges of understanding.

While researching the script, Railsback visited coffee shops and wrote down what she overheard, including differing viewpoints about guns and gun control.

She said the film was a hard story to sell because the setting was “an unknown world” to companies that make films.

Railsback has produced several other films. This film is a required part of a grant she received for work on social activism. The film will be released online this fall at and

Last modified Aug. 8, 2019