Watching ‘Otto’s Passion’ on CBC

Last year, Andrew and I watched The Last Objectors four times…and then I wrote about it. Well, Refuge 31 Films has been at it again, releasing their latest documentary, Otto’s Passion, via CBC this past weekend. So naturally, we watched!

Prior to watching, I had no idea who Otto was, nor what his passion might be. Turns out, he was a filmmaker, intent on telling, and preserving, Mennonite stories through film.

Screen shot from the film.

Through watching this film, I realized I’d seen one of Otto Klassen’s films, The Great Trek, at the MHV back in 2015, I think it was. But that wasn’t the only film Otto had made. In fact, he’d made many more — over 50 documentaries!

Screen shot panning across the many documentary films made by Otto Klassen.

What I somehow hadn’t realized when I’d watched The Great Trek, was that it depicted an event that Otto himself had experienced! He was born into a Mennonite village in 1927 Ukraine, and was a young boy when collectivisation was implemented under Stalin’s rule. Otto’s family proceeded to be buffeted by the chaotic winds of war as the armies of Hitler and Stalin battled for control of the land and people. He became separated from his family, but miraculously found them again, with an aim to finally get to Canada. However at that time no country wanted these refugees, except Paraguay. So the family found themselves etching out a home in the South American jungle, before eventually getting their paperwork together and immigrating to Manitoba at last. Once established here, he obtained a camera and began making films in earnest.

I was interested to learn that Otto Klassen was not a professional filmmaker; he was actually a bricklayer by trade, and worked on his films at night. This strikes a chord with me, because I’m not a professional nor a scholar…just a person with an interest and a laptop.

The end of the film conveys that Otto Klassen passed away in 2018…hey wait, that’s NOW. We learn that he left a great deal of material to the Mennonite Heritage Archives…which leads me to mention that if you’re so inclined, you can purchase The Great Trek (and likely also Otto’s Passion, and likely also his autobiography I Remember) from the Mennonite Heritage Archives.

Screen shot from the film. Also, this photo is on the cover of Otto Klassen’s book I Remember.