Former resident returns to Hillsboro to film movie through grant

Cinematographer Derek Fisher (of Wichita) frames up while Director Emily Railsback helps to organize Dutch Blitz cards with local actors Aleen Ratzlaff and Katherine Hamm. The scene took place at a potluck and featured Mennonite foods made by Hillsboro resident Brenda Hamm, and the dialogue was largely improvised. Provided PhotoEmily Railsback recently returned to Marion County where she had spent a large portion of her childhood and early adulthood. She moved to Hillsboro when she was 10 attending USD 410 schools and Tabor College where she majored in graphic design and international studies with a minor in painting. Her parents still live here. In fact, her mom recently retired from teaching at Marion Elementary School.

But this time, Railsback came back to pursue her life’s work.

She now works in film. She has already directed one film and hopes to soon make another one.

Railsback and her crew were here for a brief time in July to make a short film with a grant that she received.

“We got a grant from Chicago Filmmakers. We have to put together a 15-minute short film. We have to put it together by next July and release it online. However, it’s our plan that we would edit it this fall and start submitting it to film festivals. We would love to put it together and have a screening for the town people. That’s the hope, but I don’t have a set date on that.”

The crew shot enough footage for a short film and a trailer. The hope is that the short film and trailer will let organizations see this world and the characters and get traction for the feature. If an organization likes it enough, they will give the crew a real budget to make the full film.

“We already have a full feature length script written. We would come back for like three weeks and shoot the rest of what we need,” said Railsback.

Railsback and actress Kristen Bush, who plays the main character, collaborated on the project together. Bush is originally from Sterling.

“We decided to tell a story about a woman from the midwest because there are no stories about women from the midwest,” said Railsback.”The theme of this movie is about Mennonites. And it’s about gun violence. I felt like Hillsboro is the place that I wanted to set the story.There is a lot about Mennonite culture and farming that makes it’s way into the film.”

Railsback brought in one other actor from out of state, but the rest she cast locally so there will be some familiar faces in the film.

While the faces and the setting are very familiar, the main topic is one that many of us have not had to deal with on a personal level in Marion County.

“I live in a neighborhood in Chicago that has a lot of gangs and a lot of gun violence. On some weekends, there will be close to 50 shootings so gun violence is always on my mind. And, I personally really like the Mennonite way to leave a path for peace so I thought about how I could tell a story about gun violence and what you could do if an active shooter came into a classroom. I’ve been thinking about how I can tell this story from a Mennonite perspective,” said Railsback.

The film crew after filming the climactic scene at a property in the Flint Hills.Back row from L-R: Dakota Klein, Jaden Priest, Neil Bontrager, Gary Lange, Zach Neumann, Autumn Denham, Chris Knitter, Front row: Kristen Bush, Derek Fisher, Rebecca Ridenour, Emily Railsback, Lindsay Rathert, Jonathan Moeller, Rochelle Steketee. Provided PhotoRailsback said the main character in the story is a Mennonite woman, a teacher who marries someone outside the church. The husband, a politician, votes for a bill to arm teachers with weapons. But the woman is against weapons.

“So it’s the struggle of her having to go through the training and then face her husband with it. It’s not so much Democrat vs Republican, but more about how gun violence impacts all of us. If we don’t cross over political boundaries to have conversations, nothing is going to get changed,” said Railsback. “That is what drove me to do this.”

Railsback has spent the last seven years in Chicago attending grad school and making movies. She is a professor at Columbia Chicago where she teaches film.

The crew is in the process of getting a website for the film, but they don’t have one yet. Until then, updates on the film can be found at

If you would like to see some of Railsback’s other work, Our Blood is Wine, you can find it on iTunes, Amazon and Hulu.

More from Laura Fowler Paulus
Former Marion County athlete still setting records
Addie Berens was a student at Hillsboro and now attends Fort Hays...
Read More