In the film, Sergio's nephew tells a story about asking Sergio why he did this kind of
work, and put himself in harm's way. Sergio smiled, but didn't answer. What do you think
that smile said?
I think on one level he thought he was invincible. He'd been so many places; he'd seen so much war, he felt he could survive anything. I think also, on a deeper level, he was acutely aware of the risks that he was placing himself in, which is one of the reasons he didn't have his family with him as he was moving along through his career. Having said that, I think he never anticipated that the institution he loved so much, and to which he had devoted his life, the United Nations, would one day be the target of the kind of attack that happened on August 19, 2003.
I think Sergio had this belief--perhaps a naïve belief--that the United Nations was seen by all parties in a conflict to be neutral. And he firmly believed in that neutrality and that he was there to serve the people, not to take sides. But he knew the dangers. Somebody asked him once how come he didn't wear a bullet-proof vest. And he would say, "Oh, those things make you fat." It was flippant but also, he would not wear a bullet-proof vest if the people he was meeting also were not protected. He didn't want to pretend that he was more important than they were. He realized that to be effective he had to be in the field confronting the world in all of its complexities and all of its dangers, and that inherent in that was an element of risk.
What do you hope audiences take away from Sergio's story?
I've always said that this is a story of hope. And I believe that that's what people will take from it: the sense of inspiration that they get from Sergio's life, and also from the incredible bravery that the rescuers display in the course of trying to save him. It's an inspirational story. I've also found that people feel not just touched by the bravery that they've experienced watching it, but feel compelled to do something with their lives.
I had one experience at a film festival where a young medical student had gone all the way out to her car, was about to drive away, and parked the car again, came back into the theater, and said, "I just have to tell you that this has changed my whole perception of what I want to do with my life. I want to get out there in the field and do something." Which is what Sergio was all about: get out in the field and do something. For him, the field meant the whole world. But I think also for me the lesson is actually deeper: it's that all of us can do something in the field, whether it's our neighborhood, our community, and for some of us, the wider world. But Sergio and the rescuers in the film are people who took enormous risks and put themselves on the line for other people. Often for people they didn't know at all, but they just felt like they had to do that. And I think that's an example for us all. It's an inspiring message. And along the way, you know, we tell a great story and we immerse people in amazing characters. But I think, in the end, the message is one of inspiration.