Jordan Allott, 29, is the founder of In Altum Productions, a Washington-based documentary-film outfit. (The company name is Latin for “into the deep.”) He has only been at his work for six years, but already his short films have won acclaim at several film festivals. One that won no awards but did attract some attention was Be Not Afraid: The Courage to Be a Catholic Politician, which featured former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
A convert to the Catholic faith, Allott was born in England and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in political science, philosophy and film production. He now dedicates his time to producing artistically distinguished films that promote morality and the virtues. He spoke with Register correspondent Guiomar Barbi.
How did you become interested in film production?
My father is a technical producer. His work allows him to travel extensively and that really appealed to me. Also, before graduating from college, I talked to a philosophy professor and told him I was becoming interested in filmmaking. He suggested I watch Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal — coincidentally, one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite films. The movie changed my life. For the first time I saw how a filmmaker could investigate, philosophically, spiritually and psychologically, his beliefs, relationships and fears. By watching these types of movies, I realized that they were not just entertaining but also intellectual forms of art. That’s what really initiated my interest in fiction. At the same time, I like the documentary world. I believe it to be the most raw and honest form of art out there.
How did you found In Altum Productions?
After graduation, I made a short 16mm film called Defenestration, which explored issues of faith, technology, addiction and isolation. It screened at a number of film festivals, including the Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C. After completing this project, I participated in a Mexican mountain-climbing trip called the Eucharist Expedition. The producer’s goal was to make a video of the journey for a Canadian Catholic station. Through that amazing experience, I met Father Antoine Thomas of the Community of St. John and we decided to work together on various projects. That’s when I started In Altum Productions.
Our first venture was a catechetical video for teenagers called “To the Heights: Our Spiritual Ascent Towards God.” Our aim was to present questions about the Catholic faith, which are important to young people, while also displaying the beauty of God’s creation through mountain climbing. (EWTN played it as part of its “Catholic Compass” programming.)
Recently, we finished a children’s Eucharistic adoration video called “Children’s Adoration in the Third Millennium.” This has been a passion of Father Antoine’s through his group Children of Hope. It was challenging, yet spiritually edifying, to visually represent what was going on inside the hearts of these young people.
What do you think about the “religious” movies out there today?
I believe many are fantastic films, but it bothers me that most people won’t see a movie unless a Hollywood star is involved. When I was at the University of Wisconsin, before my conversion, I made a short film called The Silence. The film, which was about the possibility of embracing suffering in unity with the cross and gaining hope from Christ through Mary, was well received by the university’s film festival. Christian films need to present the faith in a way that’s stylistically original and thought-provoking while not being so cautious as to hide its motivation. The audience will connect with honesty. An atheist told me how she connected with the pain the main character was dealing with in The Silence, even though the film was obviously spiritual.
You’ve mentioned John Paul II as an inspiration. How do you, as an artist, incorporate his witness?
G.K. Chesterton said that it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most. I believe Pope John Paul II epitomizes this statement. “JP2” talked a lot about being counter-cultural. I always tell people that, if you’re a devout, young Catholic, you’re out of the norm, you’re a radical and you’re a threat. You’re a threat to secularism, relativism and the culture of death. Don’t try to be the apathetic person popular culture wants to mold you into. Embrace living a counter-cultural lifestyle.
I try to convince people to go against the norm because the norm can be really destructive. You have to be willing to take risks. I’ve taken a lot of risks, but I believe that this is God’s plan for my life. So in a certain sense I have no reason to fear. Pope John Paul II said, “Be Not Afraid” to submit to Jesus’ calling for you. Jesus risked his life and inevitably was killed for us. What are we willing to risk for him?
What’s your vision for In Altum?
I’m hoping to expand and take on a variety of new projects. Ultimately I’d like to create more fiction. We have another Eucharist Expedition in the planning stages, and I look forward to continuing my work with Father Antoine and the Community of Saint John. I’m also talking to someone about a documentary on homelessness and the exploitation of children. These are touchy subjects that people tend to shy away from, but I feel called to those issues. However, in the end, I need to remember that God is in control.
Guiomar Barbi, a former staff member of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See,
writes from Washington, D.C.
On the Web
In Altum Productions