Father Wally Kasuboski kneels in a stream

Director’s Cut: “From Mass to the Mountain”

This week on Director’s Cut, I welcome Kurt Sensenbrenner and Colin Sytsma, the creative team behind the documentary From Mass to the Mountain.

Watch the trailer:

From Mass to the Mountain – Official Trailer from Kurt Sensenbrenner on Vimeo.

The film’s protagonist is Father Wally Kasuboski, known in Panama as “Padre Pablo.” Though he has lived in Panama for the last 28 years, he is a native of Ripon, Wis. – also Sensenbrenner’s hometown, which is how the filmmakers made the connection with their subject. Their engaging documentary shows how Padre Pablo became the catalyst for bringing clean drinking water and infrastructure to a poverty-stricken region of eastern Panama. 

Poster for From Mass to the MountainThe term “filmmakers” seems particularly apt for Sensenbrenner and Sytsma, who shouldered almost all of the work themselves: directing, producing, editing and videography. The two gathered material for their film over the course of about six years, making multiple trips to Central America.

Padre begins by telling the story of a glass of drinking water he received from a parishioner during a home visit shortly after his arrival in Panama. The water had several small bugs and worms in it. That was the reality this young priest faced in his new land – one that his parishioners had been dealing with their whole lives. To Padre Pablo, this was not acceptable.

From Mass to the Mountain takes off from there, embarking on his struggles to build a dam and bring clean drinking water and basic infrastructure to the area.

Padre Pablo has become a fixture in the region, leading his parish with his upbeat, contagious personality.  He is as engaging a character as I’ve seen in any documentary featured on Director’s Cut

Sensenbrenner started the project on his own, bringing Sytsma on when he realized he needed another pair of eyes and a complementary talent. If the way they work in an interview is any indication, their partnership as co-directors was probably as harmonious as a partnership could get. Their patience as filmmakers parallels Padre Pablo’s patience and persistence in getting the dam built.

Facing obstacles such as corrupt politicians, shortages of money and corporations that strip former farms of their resources, Padre Pablo is undaunted. He gets the project started by enlisting help from some generous companies donating equipment and labor, as well as able bodies from thousands of miles away:  his hometown of Ripon.

One of the biggest challenges facing this energetic team was that they only had two weeks a year to build the dam, often battling crippling illnesses as well. The workers’ patience and persistence is inspiring, as are the bonds and camaraderie they built across cultural divides while under Padre Pablo’s direction. Thanks to their cooperation, the region’s people can now drink fresh water.

From Mass to the Mountain is the story of a spirited, spiritual man who has spent his whole life serving others, truly embodying the saying “Where there is a will, there is a way.” This film will inspire viewers in the same way it did the volunteers. 

Please join me this Friday, June 23, for my interview with Kurt Sensenbrenner and Colin Sytsma at 10 p.m. on Director’s Cut. Stay with us for From Mass to the Mountain on Director’s Cut Presents at 10:30.

As always, thanks for joining us on Wisconsin Public Television: your home for independent film!

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