Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #7: Roger Ross Williams Exposes the Evangelical Mission in ‘God Loves Uganda’

Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #7: Roger Ross Williams Exposes the Evangelical Mission in 'God Loves Uganda'

Roger Ross Williams’ dream has come true. He spent a few years interviewing Sundance’s competition filmmakers and was so inspired that he told himself he’d one day be on the other side of the camera. Williams, director of “God Loves Uganda,” and 2010’s Academy Award winning “Music by Prudence,” studied journalism as NYU and then worked making TV documentaries. Having grown up gay in the black church, he has always been drawn to the stories of others that have been rejected by their communities.

What It’s About: “‘God Loves Uganda’ is a powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.”

What It’s REALLY About: “The film is really about one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world, evangelicals, who believe in Old Testament biblical law. Born in America, but with a global reach, this evangelical movement has been barely noticed by the mainstream media; yet it has over 400 million followers worldwide and huge followings in sub-Saharan Africa, Korea, and South America.

“Well organized and well funded, they are committed to the global domination by Christian fundamentalists of all aspects of society – government, media, religion, and culture – in short, nothing less than a Christian theocracy. Theologically, they believe that they must convert and purify the earth. They are particularly concerned with ‘sexual immorality’ – that is, pornography, any kind of sex outside of marriage, and homosexuality. They believe that their opponents are often possessed by demons. And they believe that one of the first places God wants them to purify is Uganda.”

My Scariest Challenge: “While shooting in Uganda in 2011, the conservative evangelical pastors I was filming — the most ardent supporters of the country’s now infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill — discovered that I myself am gay. One began circulating emails suggesting that I be killed. I left the country immediately, and hoped I’d never have to go back. Cut to a year later. I’m with my editors at the Sundance Documentary Edit lab and it is becoming abundantly clear that we needed more footage from Uganda. We needed to spend more time there to do justice to this very complicated, and very important story. And the only way to get it right meant I had to go back. Either I sacrificed, or the story would have to. And so I went. I spent three terrifying, thrilling weeks in Uganda, knowing full well that this would be the last time I was in a country I’ve been filming for the past three years. And I’m happy to say that without the footage we captured on that last trip, ‘God Loves Uganda’ probably wouldn’t be premiering at Sundance.”

What I Hope Viewers Take Away: “That Africa should not be a dumping ground for American conservative ideology. And, that when you unleash a message of hate and intollerence, no one is safe.”

My Sole Film Inspiration “Darwin’s Nightmare.”

What I Shot On: Sony FS-700, Cannon 5D

Up Next: “I have a number of projects in development including a transmedia project about African American travel called ‘Traveling While Black’ and I’m writing a narrative script based on my experience in the baptist church called Black Sheep.”

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

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Comments

DJ

Looking forward to seeing this doc; based on the filmmaker's brief tidbits, I'm actually fascinated and perplexed by his kind of broad-stroked, reductionist rendering of terms like "evangelical,""Christian right," et al. which strike me as artificial terms that reinforce the resentments of the religiously ignorant and paranoid.

Easy to demonize the aggressive "ideologies" of the narrow conservative West under a post- colonial microscope. So if nuanced treatments were what he was after, why not do more expansive investigations into the burgeoning, indigenous Christian theologies from Africa, the Balkans and Latin America, which ironically have checked and refined the theologies and faith practices of the West (missiologies of Andrew Walls, Zambian preacher Conrad Mbewe, Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole and Croatian scholar Miroslav Volf). Of course, that type of substantive discourse might not make for a compelling enough "us vs. them" doc that might more easily appeal to the biases of the smug Western audience.

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