Encounters, a TV series produced by the Adventist media center Hope Media Europe, tells the story of two extraordinary but very different university chaplains and their struggle to make a difference in the lives of students who often face the worst life has to offer. On a larger scale, it is about finding a place in this world, making sense of one’s existence, and discovering one’s own spirituality.
The series is situated at a present-day university in Frankfurt, Germany. Each episode will focus on the possibilities, limitations, beauty, and horrors of being alive in the Western world of the 21st century. However, woven through the dramas, hopes, and failures is a red thread about what it means to be truly human.
What do you say when someone is unhappy with a relationship? What do you say when someone is terminally ill? What do you say when someone doesn't want to go on living? Probably nothing, unless you have to do so; unless it's your job; unless you're a chaplain.
Encounters was produced by Hope Media in Germany and premiered at the Adventist Sonscreen Film Festival in Loma Linda. We spoke with director Adrian Duré and screenwriter Sven Fockner.
What is behind Encounters?
Adrian Duré: In our series, we tell the story of people whose paths cross. They have encounters with each other, with life, and with God.
Sven Fockner: These stories are set at a small international college, in Frankfurt a.M., that we came up with. We unfold them in five episodes of about 30 minutes each. The focus is on two chaplains (university chaplains) and the conflicts they get into in their work.
Who is this series for?
SF: It's about everyday life at a university. Our goal is for young adults to find themselves in the plot. But I'm sure that there will be people in every age group, from teenagers to retirees, who will feel addressed by our story. Encounters should not be watched with children. Some of the themes are a bit too heavy for that.
So far, Hope Media has not produced any fictional feature films or series. How did this come about?
AD: Well, in connection with glauben.einfach, the film Nie mehr ohne dich was produced back in 2010. Not by ourselves in our studios, though. I believe that such films are a good way to appeal not only to the intellect but also to the emotions, and thus to get people talking about faith.
SF: Encounters is not just a series either. We also offer accompanying materials that can be used, for example, by school classes or small groups to engage more intensively with the themes of the series.
World premiere at the Sonscreen Film Festival. What was it like to present the series to the public for the first time?
AD: It was an incredibly emotional evening. We've been working on this project since 2015 and have all put a lot of effort into it. To finally see it on the big screen gives me goosebumps and, of course, relief that it was received so positively.
SF: We knew beforehand that it wasn't completely bad. But you're still excited because they're all professionals or film students. Not an easy audience. But when one after the other came to congratulate us, I was extremely relieved.
Seven years is a lot of time. Why did it all take so long?
SF: The series is set in a religious context. Such formats are not commercially viable in Europe and do not receive funding. So, the financing had to be done in a different way. You try to create win-win situations for partners who don't normally invest in films. There were a lot of setbacks.
AD: It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Were there moments when you wanted to give up?
AD: In 2017, four fifths of our budget went away in a few weeks.
SF: After more than two years of work.
AD: We were really at the end of our motivation. But then I got a message from South America. There, a college lecturer showed our demo episode from 2015 in his course on theology and psychology. A student wrote to him afterward saying that she had been plunged into depression by her best friend's fatal accident, but that this short clip had given her renewed courage. That was an incredible encouragement for us.
SF: To that, we have to say that, in 2015, we cobbled something together within one day of shooting to make it easier for potential funders to imagine it. ‘If even something like that is a boon to people, then,’ we told ourselves, ‘the real series will be a boon all the more, no matter how minimalist we have to produce it.’
Adrian, you were born in Argentina. What role does the international character of the series play for you?
AD: A very big one. My family lives all over the world, and Encounters is a project that was only made possible by international partners. The characters are from Colombia, Pakistan, England, the U.S., and Germany, and as best we could in coronavirus times, we also recruited international actors. The series will be in English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, and Romanian. That's fantastic.
The first five episodes will be available from July 1. Will there be more episodes?
SF: That's up to the reaction of the viewers. We are ready, the scripts for another five episodes are already written, and we want to raise a lot of the money through crowdfunding. So, we need a lot of donors.
How can you support Encounters?
SF: Anyone who wants to see more should go to www.encounters.show. There, you can participate in the financing. Otherwise, we are also very happy about followers [on] social media who recommend the series.
The online premiere will be on July 1, on www.encounters.show.