I try to pay attention to the Christian film festival circuit, noting which films are included and especially which films are winning. Invisible: The Story and Hope of Mexico’s Street Kids made the rounds, winning at both Great Lakes Christian Film Festival and International Christian Film Festival. It’s a powerful documentary made even more so after chatting with filmmaker Stephen Spivey about the making of the movie.
What is your filmmaking background?
As a teenager, I had the experience of being in front of the camera, which I appreciated as a pretty special opportunity. An Atlanta-based agency called Serendipity Model and Talent booked me in a host of regional and national commercials and, over time, in small parts in movies. While playing a bat boy in Neil Simon’s The Slugger’s Wife, we filmed a scene in the Atlanta Braves’ locker room. On a lunch break afterward, another bat boy and I ventured out to the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium baseball field. It just so happened that Neil Simon was outside having lunch and he made time to visit with us. I don’t remember what he said to me, but I knew that he was a masterful filmmaker and that I was having a small part in making something big under his direction. He made the possibility of filmmaking real for me. He was not an abstract, unattainable name anymore. He was a man, chatting with me while eating a sandwich. He was also a great filmmaker, living out what he loved to do and doing it at an exceptional level.
What inspired Invisible?
Living in Mexico City, I was stirred by the architecture, the history, and the people who are warm and who, in large part, have their priorities straight. The busiest professional generally still stops for a lengthy lunch each day and, if working close enough to home, that lunch is spent with family.
But, on a more macro level, what I was seeing became a burden on my heart. This sweet, family-first society was also navigating its millions of cars through its famously tangled traffic around other cars but, also, around many, many homeless people. The prevalence of people living outside metro stations, beneath underpasses, and in the sewer systems was breathtaking.
What inspired the film Invisible was those people I got to know in this homeless community, particularly a group of about twenty homeless kids living outside Metro Station Barranca del Muerto (Canyon of the Dead). They knew that there was a fight for their lives as they struggled daily to fend off the threats – from predators to disease – of living outside in an overpopulated metropolis. And there were churches and non-profits who were struggling to address the fight for their basic needs, like clothing and food. I was concerned about all of that, but I was gripped by the fight for their souls.
Tell us about your experience in the making of the movie? What was the most challenging?
The most challenging thing about making the movie was knowing that its benefit to the kids in front of me would likely come after a good number of them had succumbed to the threats of living on the streets. The kids who were stealing my heart and whom I knew God loved far more than I ever could would be further damaged, lost, or dead before this film might later help bring other homeless kids off the streets.
What caught you by surprise?
I was surprised at how many Christians, if you just asked them, would come and do even the least desirable of God’s work. I wasn’t surprised that young, idealistic church-goers would join me in going out to the street kids and playing soccer with them. Not surprised to see them bring along a few no-longer-used T-shirts, or even to open their hearts to these kids and share with them the word of the Lord. But, one Sunday at church, I stood up right where I had been sitting and I made an announcement that I needed people to join me directly after the service to go to Barranca del Muerto and wash and treat the feet of the homeless there. These church folks knew very well that I was talking about people who were wearing no shoes, found shoes, shoes that didn’t fit, feet that were water-logged, toe nails that had never seen a clipper, bodies that had not seen a bath. My wife genuinely worried for me, that I would soon be disillusioned and see the limits of normally willing volunteers. What caught me by surprise was that there were as many volunteers that day as there were on a come-and-pray day. God is good and so are people.
How were you personally affected by the making of the movie?
I was affected in the way anyone would be who sees friends die, live in destructive or precarious conditions, contract HIV, give birth under risky and unhygienic circumstances, or find escape – and consequently brain damage – through substances, in this case cheap solvent from the hardware store.
I felt the kids’ hope when we would talk about God’s love for them, Jesus’ sacrifice for their eternal souls, and the possible future they could have in this world that seemed to have forgotten them as thousands of people passed by them daily on their way to something else. I saw the light in these kids and I had the promising knowledge that they are nothing less than children of the Almighty God. The urgency had an effect on me, as well. I saw that these kids were wasting away, as solvent replaced food as an insidious nourishment. Satan had clearly come to steal, kill and destroy. I saw them make short-term choices that pinned them ever-longer to their circumstances. In their emptiness, their lives filled up with newborns they were not equipped to care for, disease, abuse, and an eventual fading away from who they were meant to be. The effect on me is that I was compelled to act.
Who else was involved in making Invisible?
We had a phenomenal team on Invisible. My producing partner, Keith Walker, is a blessing. He is “Mr. Contact,” and really makes Kingdom connections all day long. He is also deeply devoted to Jesus and is thus a powerful partner in prayer, as well as in production. The score came through Paul Mills studio (I Can Only Imagine, Overcomer, WarRoom,) and was scored by Zachary Leffew (Palau the Movie, Overcomer). The film was edited by Stephen McCaskell (Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer). The colorist and post-production supervisor was Steve Hullfish (Overcomer, Courageous, War Room). And sound was Nick Palladino (Priceless, Fireproof, Courageous). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two instrumental guys working with me in Mexico, Angel Urbano and Jahaziel Alvarado, who were there in the thick of it, dutifully filming and ministering.
What has been the response to Invisible?
While working with the street kids, I often found it difficult to relay what was going on with them, the brutal nature of their lives, and have people fully understand the desperate need. I knew that we had to get the story on film. Now when people see the movie, they get it. Since proceeds from Invisible go to assist these street kids, my hope for the response it is that in continues, only on an increasingly broader scale.
What do you hope that audiences will get out of watching your story of Mexico’s street kids?
God commands us to seek the lost and minister to the orphan, whether that is in Mexico City, some other foreign city, or in our own communities. If Christians act on God’s commands, the hurting across the world lifted and countless will be saved. Ultimately, we want God glorified and the name of Jesus proclaimed.
Do you have any new projects you’re working on?
We are in production on Extortion 17: The Aaron Vaughn Story, a 90-minute documentary about the life and legacy of Navy SEAL Team Six member, Aaron Vaughn, and his courageous family. This film presents a rare opportunity, along the lines of Lone Survivor and American Sniper, where we have complete access to tell a story of heroism and sacrifice of an elite SEAL Team and one of its operators. Most importantly, the film shares the story of a family that not just survives the loss of their loved one and the controversy that came with it, but how they thrive in the face of adversity while showing us how to live by grace.
We have seen a lot of people rally behind the Vaughn family and our film. When Sean Hannity said he would like to be interviewed, we knew we had to get him on camera. He had a compelling interview and was very gracious with his time. One thing he said was, “Every American, every kid in school, should be taught what happened with Extortion 17.” We agree – it is a story that must be told.
I do not look at myself as a film director, but rather a Christ proclaimer. For me, film is just another way to minister and preach Christ crucified – it is a ministry. With the way the Christian film industry is maturing, in this rapidly growing technological time, we could see vast numbers coming to Christ in this generation. I am blessed to a part of it.
I love to connecting with like-minded people on Facebook and Twitter (Stephen John Spivey).