Share Change film nets runner-up prize at Miami Film Festival


“La Deuda” opens doors to spread gospel message

By Hillary Jackson –

Director Jeff Prahl was walking out the door, about to leave for the airport when he got the news the 37th Miami Film Festival had been canceled due to COVID-19. Prahl, part of the Western Territory’s multimedia department, was set to attend the event in Florida after the short film he directed, “La Deuda,” was accepted. 

The Spanish-language film was one of five selected to participate in the HBO Ibero-American Short Film Award, which presents a $5,000 cash prize to the best Hispanic or Ibero-American short film chosen by a jury, with the four remaining runners up receiving smaller cash prizes funded by HBO.

“We felt like it was an opportunity to have a presence in a field that has long been abandoned or ignored by the Christian Church,” said Director of Multimedia Ministries Josh Cowing. “I think they have a tendency to see Hollywood as lost, whereas we see it as a mission field.”

While neither Cowing nor Prahl were able to represent the Army in Miami due to the event’s cancelation, they received the results from the film festival, and  “La Deuda” was a runner-up for the award

“In keeping with The Salvation Army’s tradition of trying anything once to try and reach people with the gospel message, we have been afforded the opportunity through the unique medium of film,” Cowing said. “By creating these narratives that have some eternal message and then submitting them into secular film festivals to get them in front of audiences who might not be willing to see them, hoping it will speak to people.”

“La Deuda” was shot in December 2017 in the El Niño, Tijuana, Mexico. The film was inspired by the parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. In the parable, a servant whose master forgave him for a large sum was unwilling to forgive another servant who owed him substantially less.

In “La Deuda,” a young boy named Victor lives with his father and beloved pet goat, Isabel, in a small village outside Tijuana. When Victor’s father’s debts catch up with him, he is given an ultimatum: payment in full, or the collectors will take Isabel, and turn her into goat stew. 

“It’s a piece that can showcase a parable that Christ told that’s very unique,” Prahl said. “It’s not by the book.”

The idea for “La Deuda” came about several years ago, when Prahl was talking with Justin Rood, a former employee, and his then-fiancee, Maria Vera. They pitched the story to Cowing and Assistant Secretary for Program Martin Hunt. 

Rood and Vera worked alongside Prahl and the Share Change team, producing and co-writing the film, which was shot in the small village of El Niño that Vera’s family lived in. In the closing credits, her family members are among the residents featured. 

Prahl said the team was intentional in remaining authentic to the community of El Niño. The film featured an all-Mexican cast, all Spanish language with producers in Mexico and a composer who lived there. 

One of the characters in “La Deuda,” Juan Pablo Samuel, has cerebral palsy. Finding an actor with cerebral palsy was important, Prahl said. He didn’t want an able-bodied actor playing the role. And the casting director delivered, finding an actor who fit the part but also had the proper Baja dialect. 

“We were incredibly blessed to shoot in this community and tell it in a way that feels authentic to the community,” Prahl said. 

The film was set to  premiere at the Miami Film Festival, with other festival entries still pending. While the main goal for “La Deuda” is evangelism, its secondary use is for sermon support. 

“Evangelism is not only successful with a conversion,” Prahl said. “It is not a one-step process…It is a multi-step process for people…That’s why there is no altar call at the end. If this can build into what people have heard about Christ, then we have done our job as storytellers.”

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