What compelled you to make this film?
The epidemic of sexual violence has been ravaging Eastern Congo for the last ten years, and it is getting little to no mainstream media coverage. I had actually wanted for many years to do a survey film about the fate of women and girls in modern conflict and post conflict. And the Congo came onto my screen as part of the research that I was doing for this longer film. And the more I found out about the catastrophe of rape in the Congo, the more I realized I needed to find out what was happening there and why the media wasn't covering it.
So I cashed in frequent flyer miles in May of 2006 and flew to Kinshasa in Western Congo, and got UN credentials and proceeded with my camera in my handy backpack to Eastern Congo and started finding women who would share their stories with me. And I realized very quickly that it was not a segment in a larger film but a film in itself.
A lot of people in the West consider it too complicated, and it's not complicated. It's a resource war. It's a holocaust in slow motion.
Why do you think the world seems so oblivious to these tragedies that have happened, and are continuing?
It's hard for me to understand why the world seems so consistently oblivious to this conflict. A lot of people in the West consider it too complicated, and it's not complicated. It's a resource war. It's a holocaust in slow motion because it has been going on for so many years. It's a well known fact in the humanitarian community that an estimated five million people have died in the last ten years in this conflict, which means it's more than ten Darfurs.
Why it continues to remain so hidden and obscure, I haven't a clue. I think it's appalling and really irresponsible on the part of the media not to be covering it. And it's one of the goals I have with the film is to bring attention to these forgotten women in a forgotten war. I think there is something about sexual violence that makes people turn away. I interviewed a UN peacekeeper on this exact subject, and he admitted to great discomfort in talking about this. He acknowledged that it is something that we want to push to one side because it's a hard thing to contemplate.
In the Congo, women and girls are intentionally being targeted for several reasons, I think. First of all, rape is cheaper than bullets, and it has just unimaginable, far-ranging consequences not only for the women and girls who have been violated and traumatized, but also for the community at large.
Once a woman has been raped, most of the time, she is rejected by her family, by her husband, by her village. If she's been chucked out of her village, she becomes a displaced person in her own country. The rapes are often so violent that the women are basically destroyed physically, even after multiple surgeries.
Part of the problem is that women in Africa, women in many cultures, are devalued, they're considered property. But at the same time, they're very often the linchpin of the society. They're the ones that nurture, the ones that take care of the children; they're the ones that carry these massive loads. And without women, the society begins to break down and it can be called a femicide, what's happening in Eastern Congo. And the country is on its knees anyway, and this is only taking it further to the brink of complete disaster.
One of the things that keeps the film from being a complete bummer is the fierce life and vitality that you sense in all of the women.
And at the same time, what's extraordinary is the courage and strength these women and girls possess in carrying on, and creating support systems for themselves after having been so traumatized.
One of the things that keeps the film from being a complete bummer is the fierce life and vitality that you sense in all of the women that I interview. And most of the people who have screened it, especially on the film festival tour that I'm on right now, say exactly the same thing to me afterwards: there is so much grace and resiliency and inner strength, and just the ability to keep going after the humiliations and pains that they've suffered. You have a sense that they're extraordinary creatures.
I hope that the people who see it will never forget [these women] and will be haunted by their stories and want to do something to help change their circumstances.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
To have a film like this on HBO is like a bully pulpit, and I hope that the people who see it, once they meet these women, I hope that they will never forget them and will be haunted by their stories and want to do something to help change their circumstances, whether that's lobbying congressmen and congresswomen, whether it's asking their newspapers to run more stories, whether it's providing direct support in terms of donations to some of the organizations working on the ground in Congo.
On the HBO website there are links and suggestions about what people can do to increase awareness around this horror, and to support these unbelievable women. And my fondest dream is that everyone who sees it will know that as individuals they can do more.