EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the World Documentary Feature Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival, Gini Reticker's "Pray The Devil Back To Hell" tells the often overlooked story of how thousands of women in Liberia helped end a horrific civil war. Under the dictatorship of Charles Taylor, hundreds of thousands of citizens were being raped, murdered and terrorized. The women of Liberia used nonviolent and peaceful protest, culminating in the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state. indieWIRE talked to Reticker about the film and its screening at Tribeca.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF programmer Sara Nodjoumi writes, "Reticker has made a commanding, inspiring, and emotionally stirring documentary about the futility of war and the splendor of peace."
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
When I was a little kid, I thought that heaven was a place that you could ask any question you wanted and get the answer. Making documentaries is about as close to heaven on earth that I could find.
What was the inspiration for this film?
The producer of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," Abigail Disney, was in Liberia as part of work she was doing to promote women's leadership globally. People she met kept referring to what the women had done to bring peace as if it was common knowledge. She decided to pursue the story and make it common knowledge to the rest of the world. We met, she told me the story and off we went.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film...
I wanted to let the women tell their story in their own voices, without any narrator, or outside voice of God. It was important to me too that they were beautifully lit . . .not portrayed as the victims that we so often associate with Africa. I also wanted to convey the circumstances that the women faced, letting the story unfold dramatically. We shot the interviews with two of the women, Leymah Gbowee and Vaibah Flomo in New York while they were here attending a UN conference. We then used those interviews to plan other interviews in Liberia, figure out what archival footage we would need, and also what types of footage we needed to shoot to illustrate their story.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
This project was blessed in development. Abigail Disney was fully committed to the film and made sure that we had what we needed. So the challenges were really in the production and post production phases. The first big challenge was as basic as figuring out how to shoot the interviews with the women. Things are still pretty rough in Liberia, unemployment is at 80%, many working people make only $3 a day, and there isn't a fully functioning judicial system. We soon discovered that it wasn't safe for us to shoot at the women's houses -- one of the women was robbed the night we shot at her house because there was an assumption that we must of given her money. In addition, there is no electricity in Liberia, everything runs off of generators. So controlling the sound was another big issue. In the end, we used a room at the American Embassy as a sound stage. Finding footage of the women during the war was another huge challenge. Hours and hours of footage of boys and men with guns existed, but almost none of the women demonstrating for peace. We scoured for it everywhere. Amazingly, we found the crucial scene of the women meeting with Charles Taylor from a guy who had been Taylor's personal videographer!
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
I hope that the Tribeca Film Festival is the launching pad for a long, expansive life for "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."