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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Angels in the Dust” Director Louise Hogarth

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | "Angels in the Dust" Director Louise Hogarth

Director Louise Hogarth follows up her controversial documentary “The Gift,” which discussed gay men who purposely contracted HIV, with “Angels in the Dust.” “Angels” tells the story of Marion Cloete, a woman who, along with husband and daughters, left Johannesburg to bring together the village and school of Boikarabelo, where most of “Angels” takes place. The Cloetes provide food, shelter and education for over 550 South African children, most of whom have been orphaned by AIDS or infected themselves. The film won the 2007 Emerging Pictures/Full Frame Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the 2007 Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Please introduce yourself…

I grew up in Alaska. I now live part of the year in South Africa, and the other in L.A. I first went to South Africa in the late 80’s, and I have been returning ever since. I am a permanent resident there, and because of Angels and my DO bracelet campaign I am returning more frequently.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I got into filmmaking because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to look back at my life and know that I was part of the solution. I find documentaries a great vehicle to spark action in people. I have seen the devastating conditions in South Africa firsthand, and I worry about what will happen to these millions of children who will be orphaned. Children don’t have the heart space or the ability to raise themselves which is why I was compelled to DO something – thus the birth of DO Act Now. Americans are overwhelmed by hearing about the AIDS crisis and by personal issues in their own lives, but I try not to get stuck in the problem, and I don’t want the audience overwhelmed by the topic. I look for solutions and I believe in people like Marion Cloete, who told me, “I just work one child at a time”. I hope the film will inspire the audience to DO something in their own lives and in making the world a world better place. My filmmaking goes hand in hand with my social activism — you can learn more about the DO bracelet campaign at the website.

How did the idea for your film come about and evolve?

Before deciding to make this documentary, I heard many stories about the Virgin Rape Myth – a belief that you can rid yourself of HIV by having sex with a virgin – this mistaken belief has lead to a dramatic increase in child rape. The reports made me very angry, but rather than getting stuck in the problem, I decided to look for possible solutions. I found the Botshabelo orphanage. My film centers on the founder of the orphanage and its matriarch, Marion Cloete, a very compelling, charismatic woman.

I was very impressed by Marion and captivated by the work she is doing. I try to show different kinds of heroes. The Cloete family demonstrate courage, forgiveness and a tolerance and a love of humanity I have never, ever encountered anywhere. This is the story of a family choosing the spiritual world over the material and the rich benefits accrued from a choice made out of love. Marion didn’t initially want to do a documentary, didn’t want to be on camera; she was very reluctant. She just wanted to do her work. Thankfully, the children told her that they wanted to tell their stories — from that moment “Angels in the Dust” was born.

What are your goals for the project?

“Angels” shows that one person can make a powerful difference. Marion is an inspiration to every human being who meets her and takes a few steps of her journey. She demonstrates that one person can make a difference. I have lost count of how many times people have told me that their own lives have been deeply affected by seeing “Angels”. As the filmmaker I am profoundly gratified the audience is inspired to make a difference in their lives. This film is not only about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the millions of orphans left with no one to look after them. Living in today’s world makes one feel disenfranchised and cynical. In spite of the subject matter, “Angels” is uplifting and inspirational for those of us who have been losing hope. I hope every person seeing the film leaves the theater asking the question — what can I DO?

A scene from Louise Hogarth’s “Angels in the Dust.” Courtesy of Participant Productions.

How did you finance the film?

This was the biggest challenge for my last two documentaries. I had to sell my house to finish “The Gift” and launch “Angels”. It wasn’t an easy decision but it is one I don’t regret making. Two years and 85 hours of footage later I was thrilled to be green-lighted by Diane Weyermann of Participant Productions. This funding allowed the film to be completed and distributed by Participant Productions and one could not ask for a better partner to highlight the plight of these children. My first shoot was in 2004, a second shoot in 2005 and two in 2006, all self funded. Participant Productions funded in August 2006. I returned to South Africa for the last shoot in 2006 and finished post early 2007.

What are some of your all-time favorite films?

Brother Sun Sister Moon“, “Babette’s Feast“, “Wings of Desire” and “Raise the Red Lantern“. They have a common theme making the world a more beautiful place.

What are your interests outside of film?

Travel, books, yoga and finding new projects. I am currently writing a feature film script based in South Africa. Working on my DO campaign!!! After experiencing the poverty and unemployment in South Africa, I was impelled to DO something–thus the birth of DO. People can help my cause by buying a DO Ubuntu Bracelet. Ubuntu comes from the Xhosa word meaning “humanity towards others” and refers to a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity — DO unto others as you would have them DO unto you. Through the website you can live this philosophy. The bracelet provides a vehicle for people to give and help alleviate some of the misery engulfing millions of children around the world as well as provide income for women and mothers in desperate need of support., the UB is handmade and provides sustainable income for woman and men who are chronically unemployed. This project not only allows them dignity from earning a living wage but also helps them stay healthy and stay alive.

The proceeds will be donated to charities and projects with innovative programs not normally funded by the large HIV/AIDS global funding stream. After spending the last three months in the Eastern Cape (70% unemployment) and seeing the incredible difference a salary makes to these impoverished women, I am determined to continue my efforts to market DO bracelets as a tangible symbol of this enormous cr

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