"If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." - Mother Teresa
As much or more than any journalist of our generation, Nicholas Kristof's reporting embodies these words, using individual stories to bring the suffering of millions of Africans to the attention of the world. A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, Krisof's latest (self-appointed) assignment has taken him to central Africa, where his journey will be chronicled by filmmaker Eric Daniel Metzgar, along with videographer Naka Nathaniel. As Kristof trudges across the rural landscape and up an incline leading to a village, Metzgar notes that Kristof is here with one objective: "To make you care about what's going on just over the hill."
Two young Americans - Leana Wen, a medical student, and Will Okun, an English and photography high-school teacher in Chicago - have taken the trip with Kristof, who serves as the pair's mentor and teacher. Metzgar, as filmmaker and narrator, follows the group as they journey from New York to Congo, trekking to villages, refugee camps, and dangerous jungle hideouts for Tutsi leaders who have imported their violent form of warlord justice from Rwanda.
In addition to providing background on Kristof, a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar who has risen to the highest ranks of print journalism, the film provides ample images to reinforce Kristof's mission: to bring the plight in the Congo to his reader's consciousness by telling stories of individual men, women and children whose lives are on the brink because of the ongoing Tutsi/Hutu conflict.
Among the images chronicled in print by Kristof and in video by Metzgar:
- The aftermath of a brutal encounter in Bendit, in which villagers shot and wounded a Dunguit man who they say attacked them the night before.
- A group of villagers from Demerwala, who recount tales of murder and sexual abuse targeted against people who voted against the candidate of a feudal lord.
- A camp filled with refugees from Binza, who are receiving shipments of food from the U.S. while telling Kristof grim tales of murder and pillaging.
- A woman named Yohanita, raped by a soldier and now starving in her hut, who must be driven to a hospital in an (ultimately futile) attempt to save her life.
- A rare interview with General Laurent Nkunda, the reigning warlord in eastern Congo, who claims to be a "liberator" protecting the Tutsi minority from Hutu militia who fled here after causing the Rwandan genocide earlier in the decade. After interviewing Nkunda, the group intends to return to their village before dark, but the warlord insists that they stay for dinner, forcing them to return in the dark (a dangerous proposition).
The film also includes insights into Kristof and his impact on journalism from the likes of colleagues like Gail Collins, Samantha Power, Andy Rosenthal and Jeffrey Toobin, as well as the actress Mia Farrow, whose UNICEF activism in this region owes much to Kristof's reporting. It also includes a funny yet telling clip from The Colbert Report in which the host, in his ignorant-American persona, asks Kristof to "give me one reason why I should think beyond our borders" - hitting on the primary reason why Americans are slow to recognize the plight of the "distant stranger." Kristof, a student of the so-called "psychology of compassion" replies, "In one recent experiment in social psychology, participants were shown a photograph of a seven-year-old, starving African girl named Rokia, and they were asked to donate money to help her. Well, everybody wanted to do that. But when the photograph was accompanied by statistics about the reasons for malnutrition, then donations dropped off a great deal. And when people were shown the statistics alone and asked to donate simply to twenty one million hungry kids, then donations just dropped off. Nobody wanted to contribute in that scenario." Later, Kristof speaks of the paradox he faces in trying to accurately report the big-picture news without turning off his readers. "I want to inspire readers to tackle the broader problems, the systemic problems, "he says. "So inevitably I have to present those statistics to feel that I am doing intellectual justice to the issue. But in doing so, I risk losing those readers and losing their compassion. So it's tricky...I always feel like I'm navigating a very thin line."
CREDITS: Directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar; Produced by Mikaela Beardsley and Steven Cantor; Executive Producer: Ben Affleck; Photographed, Edited, and Narrated by Eric Daniel Metzgar. For Home Box Office: Supervising Producer: Jacqueline Glover; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.