A conversation with a filmmaker

Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Rachel Humphries
About the Author

Rachel Humphries

Rachel Humphries is Alumni Relations Officer at Avondale University College.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and alumnus Kyle Portbury (BA/BTch 2001) tells transformational stories. He’s explored life’s biggest questions, followed seven disabled climbers up Mount Kilimanjaro, and recreated the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At the time of recording this interview, he and his family lived and worked in Cape Town, South Africa. They have since returned to Australia. Here’s a part of Kyle’s conversation with Alumni Relations Officer Rachel Humphries, adapted for publication.

Much of your 18 months in South Africa has been in lockdown. Did you get to explore the local area?
We took trips before the pandemic hit. Once restrictions eased we could drive around. You can see a lot of wildlife within 20 minutes of our house—a penguin colony, zebra, ostrich, koodoo, elan and bontebok in the national park near us. We see baboons roaming about on the way to the kids’ school.

How did you get into filmmaking?
After graduation I taught for a year in Australia, got married [to alumna Andrea Hay] and moved to the UK. I retrained and completed a master’s in performance at Drama Centre London. I started in filmmaking by writing a business plan for a BBC director. He didn’t know much about computers, so he took me along to a funding pitch because I’d made the pitch digitally. The investors just assumed I was producing—so I did.

What did you do next?
After five years in the UK, we returned to Australia so I could serve as creative director of film and television at Adventist Media Network. I worked on the Complete Health Improvement Program, and directed Beyond the Search and Tell the World. From there, our family moved to Texas where I was a film professor at Southwestern Adventist University. Then an opportunity came to be a writer and director at an animation studio in South Africa.

Describe one of your biggest challenges as a creative?
I produced and directed a film called The Mountain Within that followed seven disabled climbers up Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was physically demanding; you can’t tell seven climbers with a disability to backtrack for a crane shot. You get one go at it so I would have to stand in for the rehearsals. This meant a lot of running up and down tracks, not easy at altitude.

You wrote and directed an animation about Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a women?”. Why?
She came up a lot during the research for Tell the World. She didn’t identify as an Adventist but lived around Battle Creek in the mid-1800s. She knew the Whites and the Bates’ as they were all active in the abolition movement. She had the audacity to speak at a women’s convention where only men where speaking. Her speech has been covered a lot but I took a different angle: the context around what provoked her to speak. Winning an Emmy was a pleasant surprise, and the film did well on the festival circuit too.

Your next project is also an animation.
Yes, it’s MacGyver meets Schindler’s List. It will tell a small slither of the story of Johan Weidner, a Seventh-day Adventist who saved over 1000 Jews and allied pilots during World War II.