Local filmmaker debuts humanitarian documentary ‘Seeds of Life’

The exclusive premiere follows the story of Haitian and Dominican Republican agricultural revitalization efforts

By Erin Hunsader

Green Bay filmmaker Paige McKenna (far right) can be seen alongside humanitarian worker Maria Marciano (center right) on-location in Vallejuelo. McKenna followed Marciano’s agricultural revitalization efforts, such as helping workers on the pictured fish farm, for the ‘Seeds of Life’ documentary. Photo courtesy of Paige McKenna

Imagine waking up thirsty and instead of strolling to the kitchen to grab a drink, you have to trek 10 miles to the nearest water system which may or may not be operational.

Seeds of Life, a documentary premiering at the Meyer Theatre (117 S Washington St) on Jan. 13, follows the story of the people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti who face this reality every day.

Green Bay resident and filmmaker behind the documentary Paige McKenna followed the story of Maria Marciano, a Catholic nun who provides essentials such as water and food to people in need.

McKenna describes Marciano as “a modern day Mother Theresa.”

“She is, I would say, the strongest woman I’ve met,” McKenna said. “Her determination is – there is no word that would describe her determination. She has devoted her entire life to help the poor.”

The documentary, shot and edited by McKenna, follows Marciano, who has worked in the region for over two decades, from the Dominican Republic to Haiti as she sets up water systems and plants crops to make the communities more sustainable and self-reliant. Marciano also teaches them how to continue to keep the water systems and fields running.

While the focus of the 80-minute film is on Marciano, McKenna said she had a serendipitous journey throughout the film’s making.

“Ever since I was about 7 years old I wanted to make movies,” McKenna said. “I wanted to be an actress though, and then I eventually ended up going to film school in San Diego at a very small private film school (John Paul University) and graduated from there in 3 years with a BA in video production with an emphasis in producing.”

Because of the cost of living, McKenna migrated back to Wisconsin, working for a local production company and landing a corporate job, which, she said, she “wasn’t cut out for.”

Five years prior, McKenna had applied for a missionary trip to Haiti but was unable to attend. While she was working her corporate job, she received a call letting her know an opportunity had opened up.

“This was a totally random, kismet experience,” McKenna said.

McKenna said she didn’t waste any time. She quickly her left corporate job and headed to Haiti. While there on the 10-day mission she said went into it for the experience but didn’t think to bring a camera.

“It didn’t really cross my mind because I felt very young and inexperienced and I didn’t feel confident in my craft. When I got out there, as soon as I met all of these people, I thought, ‘Oh, I should’ve brought my camera.’”

When she returned to Wisconsin, she knew she had to go back, and this time, she’d be sure to bring her equipment. McKenna said the initial experience changed her and it was hard to return to “normal” life.

“I grew up Catholic,” McKenna said. “I had a very religious background but none of that really stuck out to me as much as the humanitarian effort. We need to help people who are less fortunate than us. So that was really the main thing in my mind.”

McKenna fundraised and booked a flight back, this time meeting Marciano and following her across the countryside to document her work. Soon, Seeds of Life began to take shape.

McKenna said the first half of the documentary takes place in Vallejuelo, Dominican Republic, where Marciano is from, and then moves to Cerca La Source, Haiti where Marciano pleaded with locals to let her purchase land to teach residents how to plant their own crops.

Catholic nun Maria Marciano is the subject of the newly released documentary ‘Seeds of Life.’ Photo courtesy of Paige McKenna

“We watched her (and everyone) clear the land. She took a tractor out there, did the field, got it ready for planting and they planted while we were there,” McKenna said.

McKenna was able to capture all of this nitty-gritty work in the documentary, but getting interviews to go with the footage proved a whole other challenge. She said one of the hardest parts of the film’s production was navigating the translation process She worked with a translator to translate the interviews from English to Spanish and French Creole. McKenna said she felt “helpless” at times because of the translation complexities.

“It was so humbling,” McKenna said, “to feel so out of control and I just had to trust. It was a good lesson in letting go.”

Seeds of Life premieres at the Meyer Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 6 pm and a Q&A with McKenna will follow. All proceeds from the film will go to continuing Marciano’s outreach and humanitarian efforts.


Erin Hunsader is a staff writer for Green Bay City Pages, the Press Times and the Editor of Healthy Living & Wellness magazine. She received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and her Master’s degree from New York City University’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can message her at ehunsader@mmclocal.com

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