Five minutes with: Emily Railsback

Filmmaker returns to Kansas to film a short movie addressing gun violence

Filmmaker Emily Railsback stands in the Flint Hills during filming of "Fear Not." Photo provided by Emily Railsback

This summer, Emily Railsback trekked from Chicago to her small, rural hometown of Hillsboro, Kansas, with a film crew in tow. Still a member of Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Railsback is a filmmaker and teaches film at Columbia College in Chicago. With a grant from Chicago Filmmakers to produce a short film she began production on Fear Not, a film addressing the issue of gun violence. 

What is the story about?

Fear Not is about a pacifist Mennonite teacher who is forced to carry a gun in school after her husband helps pass a statewide mandate. Her faith is awakened when a foreign pastor moves to town preaching active nonviolence.

What made your hometown a good setting for the film?

I love Hillsboro, and there is really no better place to show the authentic look of a Mennonite small town. The community made it a blast to film here—we filmed the climactic fight between the husband and wife at the local demolition derby and Hillsboro’s police chief played himself in an active shooter training scene.

Where might we see some MB influence?

In the church scene, the sermon was derived from a Tabor Bible class lecture by Del Gray. The scene’s opening comes from my childhood memory of Paul Epp directing Wonderful Grace of Jesus with gusto. Paul played the part, and when I directed him to look down at the hymnal I had him hold, he responded, “But I don’t need to.” I clearly cast the right person for that role and probably shouldn’t have even had him hold a hymnal!

Why is gun violence a topic you wanted to tackle?

When I type into my search engine “How many shootings were in Chicago” it automatically fills in “this weekend.” There have been 250 mass shootings in the U.S. this year. A dozen plus friends of mine have been mugged at gun point. It is absolutely ridiculous that we sit by and do nothing.

What difference can this film make?

One of the biggest problems is the growing divide between urban and rural communities. In my Chicago neighborhood during summer the sound of gun shots and fireworks are interchangeable. In rural communities people hunt for their food. We have different needs. I hope to create a discussion about gun violence reaching across those divides.

How does your faith find expression in filmmaking?

For me the most magnetic part about Jesus’ life is his storytelling ability to engage people on social issues. He hung out with prostitutes, he loved immigrants and above all he told us to love, not fear. My film is all about fear, and it’s a story to engage people with differences.


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