The Ballad of the White Horse, G.K. Chesterton’s epic poem of chivalry and valor, came to life on the silver screen this week at Christendom. The feature-length film was brought to campus by Christendom senior Joshua Butek, who has been working for the past seven years to create a film adaption of the Ballad.
“My experience at Christendom really helped me to see things through and to persist in the face of daunting obstacles,” notes Butek. “There were many times when this project seemed impossible to complete, but by the grace of God everything happened in exactly the way it needed to happen, oftentimes in incredible ways. We needed a castle for one of our locations; it turns out there is a castle in Wisconsin, even though none of us had ever heard of it before, and the owners were quite happy to let us film there.”
Rural Wisconsin looks uncannily like medieval England, as students at the film’s premiere discovered. Christendom was proud to host the first public showing of the film on March 19, gathering nearly eighty students in the St. Lawrence Commons. The film was received well and will be shown again on campus soon. Butek and crew have even bigger plans for the future of the movie.
“We believe that the story of the Ballad is an important one for our time, and we want to make it heard and seen by as many people as possible,” says Butek. “To that end, we are in the process of making the film available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray. Details will be on the new website we are building.”
Butek, who originally hails from Wisconsin, began this ambitious project while still in high school. A longtime fan of Chesterton’s writing, Butek tried to tackle the 2,684 line Ballad. He eventually passed off the challenging read to a friend, Christian Ruf, who read the whole thing and declared that he would make a film adaption of it. Butek recalls his first reaction to the idea:
“I looked at him and thought: ‘England. Big medieval battles. Horses. Poetry. Castles. This can’t possibly go anywhere.’ But aloud I told him: ‘Sure, I’ll help out.’ Seven years later, here we are.”
Adapting the poem to movie format was a long journey. Having begun the project in high school, Butek continued to work on the film even after coming to Christendom. His position in Christendom’s Marketing Office gave him access to high-quality recording equipment and training in how to use them, thanks to director of marketing Niall O’Donnell.
“Most of the film production was done during the summer, so the academic year was usually spent making plans and working out more technical aspects of the project,” says Butek. “Then, during breaks, we would do as much filming and editing as possible. We were also able to do a lot of audio work—including the entire narration track—on weekends and other spare moments.”
Creating a feature-length film while attending college posed a lot of challenges, but being at college also meant that nearly twenty Christendom students were able to get involved with the project. Andrew Stauffer (’20) plays the crucial role of the narrator, who sets up each scene of the movie, which remains entirely faithful to the lines of the Ballad. Emily Palm (’20) is Alfred’s stunt double, Rachael Butek (’20) managed behind-the-scenes organization, Kaitlin Kelley (’16) plays Alfred’s mother, and Lisa Foos (’19) is seen as an extra. Another dozen students recorded sounds such as laughing, shouting, and fighting for various scenes in the film.
The film, produced and filmed entirely by Catholic youth, is a great testament to the zeal and passion that will bring the truth to the modern world. In evidence of this, one of the actors in the film converted to Catholicism during the making of the movie. The power of film in shaping society ought to be taken advantage of by Catholics seeking to live in the world but not of the world. Butek’s movie offers a classic work in a whole new way, passing on the values of past generations to the modern viewer.
“Through all of this, I learned experientially what I was learning intellectually at school: that God has a marvelous plan for each of us, and we must but try as hard as we can, having ‘faith without a hope’ that He will lead us to victory in the end.”
Contributed by author Riley Damitz (’20).