“Vet documaker Lisa F. Jackson offers a harrowing look at violence against women as a war crime in "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo." Lensing is exceptional through this distressing and disturbing doc…”
– Joe Leydon, Variety
Posted by admin | Mar-20-2008
Wednesday March 5th, Prague, Czech Republic
The film has just opened the One World Human Rights Film Festival! There were two screenings tonight. I made opening remarks at the Svetozor Theater at 7:30 to a sell-out crowd of over 300 - they were literally standing in the aisles - with Helena doing the Czech translations. They were screening a version that had been totally re-subtitled in Czech.
As I looked out at all the faces I said that none of the women in the film, in their wildest dreams, could have imagined that their silence would be broken and their stories heard in venues like this one. I'm glad the translator took over at that point as I was getting a little choked up.
Helena commented later about the Czech"reticence"was probably compounded by being a little overwhelmed by what they'd just seen. Once rolling, though, I fielded questions and comments for almost 45:00. The usual question came up about filming the rapists: wasn't I in fear of my life with those thugs in the bush? I recalled my moment of panic, being washed with sweat as we hiked in, and then realizing that these twerps really wanted to be interviewed and that if anything were to happen to me they would miss out on their little moment of fame - my camera was as good as a gun. And speaking of guns, there was the inevitable comment (from a man) that maybe all the women in eastern Congo should be given guns to protect themselves. Really! By the time I got back over to the Lucerna the opening party was in full swing. I spent most of the evening talking with a woman named Marketa who came rushing up to embrace me and tell me that watching the film had given her the courage and conviction to leave her abusive husband.
Here are some photos of me at the Q&A - I think I look spaced out and jet-lagged, but there you have it:
Friday March 7th, Prague
After the screening this afternoon I was joined by Shannon Meehan, who's with the International Rescue Committee, for a discussion with the audience that lasted over 90 minutes.
Shannon is great, so wise about the topic in ways I could never be. When the theater had to be vacated for the next event we took up in a hallway to continue talking with a group of about 20 people.
Shannon made the point, in response to the "what can we do to help" question that the Czech Republic in 2009 would become president of the European Union and could lobby for funding and attention towards the crisis in the DRC:"if two-thirds of the European Parliament agrees, it forces the European Commission and Council to act." I didn't know that!
Saturday March 8th, Geneva(International Women's Day!)
It was totally not fun getting up in the pre-dawn chill for the flights to Geneva, but once here I'm glad I made the effort. My flight was late and I barely had time to dump my bags at the hotel, literally stick my head under the faucet to freshen up and head back out. Lunch was a chocolate bar. The FIFDH festival is small but intensely earnest and smart. There were 100+ folks in the audience who were full of eager questions, but things got cut short because of the pressure to clear the hall for the next event, which was a screening of Carmen Castillo's 1993 film"La Flaca Alejandra"about the Chilean revolutionary movement and her friend who breaks under torture and betrays her comrades. Then there was a panel on the role of women in the fight against impunity with activists like Guatemalan Helen Mack and Mandira Sharma from Nepal. They spoke eloquently about the need for support and protection of victims of torture and state sponsored violence. Mack seemed to imply that some survivors never recover. They also spoke about"chain of command"issues where the guys on top never get punished for the atrocities their soldiers are ordered to commit. I left the panel early as I was cratering from jet lag and hunger.
Later that night, back in my cruddy little hotel room, I was awakened by drunken rowdies cavorting in the street below my window and as I'm lying there cursing them, for some reason it flashed through my groggy brain:"Jackson, why the fuck didn't you pose a question to the panel about state-sponsored RAPE and ask why perpetrators are never tried or convicted?!"We've heard about torture, we know about apartheid - what about the international apathy/silence/ignorance about SEX CRIMES? I was so furious at myself for the missed opportunity - and furious at the revelers for waking me up - that I cracked a beer from the mini-bar and stewed and scribbled in my journal for almost an hour before finally drifting back to sleep. I went on a long jog around Lake Geneva the next morning and was still fuming.
Monday March 10th, London, House of Commons
I'm drinking vending machine coffee as the films screens down the hall, in the Margaret Thatcher Room, to the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region. In the screening right now are Shannon Meehan and Anneke Van Woudenberg, an extraordinarily eloquent (and extraordinarily beautiful) woman who has lived in the DRC for many years and has been Human Rights Watch's passionate spokeswoman on the issue, on the ground in the Kivus speaking out for the women and girls who have suffered so. I've known her name and read her quoted in so many articles for so many years that I'm awed and honored to be in her company. And to my great pleasure and surprise, Nici Dahrendorf is here, too. I've known Nici for years and she has long been a champion of the film. Her last UN gig was in the DRC investigating the predatory peacekeepers who were raping little girls, setting up brothels and exchanging bags of flour for blow jobs. She wrote a magnificent and infuriating report that was subsequently buried. I stayed with her in Kinshasa on my first trip and she helped facilitate my obtaining MONUC press credentials. And now she's accepted another Congo gig, returning in a month to be the UN's special envoy on sexual violence. Brave, wonderful woman.
Eight hours later... there were some MP's attending but there were also many in the audience of 80+ (the room was full) from the African Diaspora, Congolese who used the occasion to vent big passions about the catastrophe unfolding in their country and the inertia of the international community to affect the situation and initiate some changes. Anneke commented that she has been working on this issue for years and"you can't say they don't know"what's been going on, but still no one acts. One man rose to address the issue of impunity:"they brought Milosevic to justice, why can't we do the same thing with these soldiers who are bragging to the cameras about what they have done?"Another man fumed about how Kagame in Rwanda and Museveni in Uganda needed to step up and take responsibility for their marauding militias. One woman in particular touched me. She said that she had seen practically every recent film having to do with Congo's catastrophic war and was so sickened and sad to see and hear the litanies of horror and abuse that continue to describe the situation in her home country. I went up to embrace her afterwards, feeling almost apologetic that my film was adding to that sorry roll call. And it turns out that she knows Drocele Mugomoka, the Congolese activist who has a small scene in the film! She promised to put us in touch.
Several friends wrote to tell me today that an article about the film had appeared in Metro, a free paper that I've seen handed out at NYC subway entrances. Free is good.
Post screening discussion in the Margaret Thatcher Room, House of Commons, London
R-L: Shannon Meehan, Anneke Van Woudenberg, Nici Dahrendorf
Post screening discussion in the Margaret Thatcher Room, House of Commons, London
Tuesday March 11th, San Francisco
I am jet-lagged beyond possibility after the 11-hour flight from London and cannot quite believe that I am still coherent. Libby Marsh, who is the head of the HRW SF chapter, took Anneke and I to dinner and after we ordered my phone rang, and it was Major Honorine calling! Happily, Anneke was there and after a befuddled salutation in my bad French I handed her the phone to translate and convey H's message that she had gotten her invitation letter from HBO and was on her way to Kinshasa to get her visa and was wondering about the ticket etc, which I had Anneke explain would be coming once the hard-to-get visa was in her hand.
My salmon dinner was my first square meal in several days - I've been snacking on the run, or too tired to venture out of the hotels to forage - and by the time my head hit the pillow it was almost 4:00 am UK time.
Wednesday March 12th, SF
It was a very full day, starting with a screening at the Pixar Animation Studios across the Bay. I was joined for the Q&A by Heidi Lehmann, the IRC's senior advisor on"sexual and gender based violence"(SGBV is a term she loathes:"why don't they just call it what it is - rape!"). I've known Heidi for a while, and it was great to have her with me. The staff screening room was ridiculously posh -- seating for 300+ and as the lights came down the ceiling lit up with twinkling constellations and shooting stars and the sounds of crickets. Really! About 60-80 folks came, many bringing their lunch, taking a little break from conjuring the next"Ratatouille"money-printing cartoon epic.
I'm afraid I was a little hard on them during the Q&A, commenting that there was probably more coltan in this building than in all of Marin County and if one-tenth of the creative (and money-making) power at Pixar were harnessed towards solving the problem of sexual violence in the Congo, things would change over-night. I couldn't get off my guilt-tripping and shared with them the suggestion of the person at Sundance who said I should start a campaign where after every screening folks sent text messages to the manufacturers of their cell phones to ask if they used Congolese coltan and therefore had the blood of Congolese women on their phones. I told them that I had no clue how to initiate such a campaign, but perhaps there was a genius at Pixar who could get it launched.
I continued ranting, becoming even more furious as Heidi and I drove back into the city. Rape is like an orphan disease and no one will step up and take it on. Bloody Bill Gates is pouring billions into eradicating malaria, messing with the molecular structure of frigging mosquitoes. If he's looking for a disease with no"competition", how about sexual violence? Why are there no gazillionaires putting dough into helping survivors and punishing perps? On the reception desk at Pixar was a homely Lucite award given to them in thanks for their donations by the Red Cross. The Red Cross? Give me a damn break! Can you get any safer? I practically had steam blowing out of my ears as we crossed the Bay Bridge. It's now after midnight. There was a small reception before the screening tonight for the guests invited to the SFHRW festival's opening night. One of them was a hero of mine, author Adam Hochschild, who wrote the epic expose of Congo's sorry history and the depravities of Belgium's cruel exploitation. I had brought my dog-eared copy of"King Leopold's Ghost"and at the reception he had penned"warmest wishes and good luck with the film". After the screening he asked for the book back that he might amend his inscription. He scribbled a bit, handed me the book, thanked me and left. Afterwards I read what he had written and burst into tears:"Your brave, extraordinary film is in the great, courageous tradition of people like Casement and Morel, who tried to draw the world's attention to the Congo 100 years ago, and in the courageous tradition of all who've spoken up for the rights of women for centuries. This film will long endure."WOW.
The San Francisco Chronicle published this article today:
The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo
Heidi Lehmann and a new friend in the Pixar lobby
Poster for the opening night of the San Francisco Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Monday March 17th, London
I've just gotten in (after another cramped and endless overnight flight from SF) and found this email waiting for me. It's from the head of the great organization Friends of the Congo:
I just read your interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. I was so glad to see you describe the Congo conflict as a resource war and tied it into the modern amenities (cell phones, computers, electronic devices, etc) from which we all benefit. Antonio Guterres of the UNCHR said as much in his interview with the Financial Times in early January.
Also, the Financial Times published an article last week questioning the ties of Microsoft, Hitachi, Sony, Panasonic and other companies to the conflict in the Congo. Unfortunately, this link is rarely made and I was so glad to see people such as yourself who have access to mainstream media make those very critical ties which are key to getting people to pay attention and hopefully resolving this conflict once and for all.
Here is a copy of the FT article:Congo rebels cash in on demand for tin
Again, thank you very much. All the best with the rest of your tour and raising awareness about the dire situation of women and children in the Congo.
Become a Friend of the Congo