Five for Filmmaker Kurt Tuffendsam

Hollywood Filmmaking for Mission Mobilization

by Jeffrey Hillard
August 2010

Kurt Tuffendsam is a friend and filmmaker I recently spent time with in Hollywood. In emotional and spiritual support, RED! is now partnering with his organization Kurt is going into Mexico prisons with a uniquely annointed innovator, Pastor Esteban, who himself was formerly incarcerated. Read about the miraculous things happening in Mexico.


RED! - As a documentary filmmaker you've moved into original, uncharted territory in terms of capturing mission work, and specifically the spiritual movement in Mexico's La Mesa prison. Could you describe what this experience has been like?

KURT - Capturing a modern day Book of Acts story and retelling it cinematically has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. My background is in producing feature films in Hollywood and yet this real life story is so much more complex and intriguing than any fictional narrative film I've ever been involved with. It is very fulfilling to see the Glory of God displayed through broken people God has repaired.

Tijuana, Mexico is infamously known to most of the Western World during the past decade for horrific violence between the many warring drug cartels and often corrupt Mexican officials that are struggling to bring an end to drug trafficking. It is in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation that God has chosen to reveal his grace to a very rapidly growing band of former drug cartel leaders, mafia hitmen, drug addicts, and criminals who have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

RED! - Pastor Esteban is a phenom in the evangelistic mission field and a core focus of your film-in-progress. What's it been like to be around such an influential figure?

KURT - I feel a real sense of responsibility to accurately portray his story not only for our own generation to be inspired but for many generations to come to hear of the incredible works of God being displayed through Pastor Esteban's life and the hundreds of leaders in the Agua Viva network of churches.

I really admire his form of ministry and discipleship. One of his favorite sayings is, "Ser, Conocer, y hacer" (translated - "to be, to know, and to do"), referring to the three most important attributes of a disciple of Christ. He has adopted Jesus' and Saint Paul's form of teaching in 3's which I think is so effective also. To Pastor Esteban, if you are missing any one of these three aspects in your Christianity, you are not really a follower of Christ.

Some know a lot but don't do. Some do a lot but have unsound theology and are Bible illiterate. Some know and do, but like the pharisees do not understand God's heart and could be filled with pride or have some other attitude deficiency toward God. I am extremely edified every time I am around Pastor Esteban.

RED! - What's La Mesa prison like today? Is it any better or worse off than your prior visits?

KURT - La Mesa is the federal prison in Tijuana, Baja, Mexico. I have only been inside the prison recently, but when Esteban was incarcerated there prior to 2002, it was drastically different. Then, all of the prison guards and officials at the prison were paid off by inmates and the drug cartels ran the prison.

Almost anything could be bought for a price including a night outside. Inmates could buy a prison cell or plot of land to build inside the prison. There was a 7-11 and an AM/PM store inside the prison, along with five drug labs where drugs were made and distributed inside and outside the prison. There was a drug line that formed every morning of more than 5,000 of the 12,000-plus living inside the prison where they would wait to get their drugs or "gasoline" as they called the substances.

La Mesa was originally built to house 4,000 and is a relatively small prison. After President Fox was elected in Mexico in 2002 he launched a massive clean up of corruption in government posts within the prison system and police. At that time there were even thousands of non-inmates living in La Mesa who were there to party or were family or friends of inmates.

The Mexican military raided La Mesa and took out all the prisoners while they bulldozed the illegally- built structures and disposed of all the furnishings that had often been lavishly provided by drug money and bribes. Today, La Mesa Prison houses approximately 7,000 prisoners.

RED! - A number of your colleagues in the film industry are really very supportive of your work with MissionRise. That must mean a great deal to you.

KURT - Yes, I am very fortunate to have their support and encouragement. Whether they are crew, cast, or above the line I have had the privilege of working with many very talented filmmakers, and I am not surprised by their generosity or commitment to help us succeed in raising awareness for issues of consequence that effect all humanity. Regardless of their religious (or non-religious) backgrounds they are eager to lend their hand to make a positive difference, and for that I am grateful.

RED! - What's next in terms of work on the film?

KURT - We are currently writing a script based on Esteban's life story and are concurrently visiting various leaders of Agua Viva to interview them in Mexico on weekends. We are lining up interviews with prison guards and the director of La Mesa at the time when Esteban was imprisoned there. This is also the same man who allowed Esteban to be released from prison after only 3-1/2 years of his 33-year sentence, so he could start other Churches in Mexican Federal Prisons with support from the government.

We hope to shoot the scripted scenes during a two-week period in early December. We will be shooting in Los Angeles and Tijuana on location. We need to raise $15,000 to start production in early December.

Please pray with us as we believe God will provide the funds and people we need to complete this film. You can get more info about this film and Rise at: Or on Facebook at:

RISE - Hollywood Filmmaking for Mission Mobilization