Special thanks to Mindset Media for images.
Uganda Rising: The Canadian Film About Northern Uganda
"It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
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First published: May 4, 2006
Right now in Toronto, a city known in the cinematic world for hosting international film festivals, it's all about Hot Docs – The Canadian International Documentary Festival, the largest doc fest in North America running from April 28th-May 7th, 2006. It is being featured in many of the city's newspapers, the television and has been a source of conversation and controversy for the past few days. The festival presents a selection of over 100 cutting-edge documentaries from Canada and around the globe. Last year, the festival attracted over 1,700 delegates, including documentary filmmakers, buyers, programmers, distributors and commissioning editors from around the world.
It is in the midst of all this accomplishment that Northern Uganda is being profiled and remembered in a documentary film called Uganda Rising - the Canadian produced, directed and written documentary film, which will premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival. Ugandan Rising is a nonsensical, heart-wrenching topic, which brings awareness to a twenty-year conflict and humanitarian crisis that has devastated Northern Uganda for nearly two decades.
The brains behind this film are producer Alison Lawton and directors Jesse Miller and Pete McCormack. The film was produced by Mindset Media, a socially conscious, non-partisan media company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting stories and issues through compelling visuals which express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets today.
With Uganda Rising, they succeed in doing just that. It's not an easy film to watch, but it is a true eye-witness depiction of what is really happening in Northern Uganda under the bloody, inhumane and murderous brutality of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. It features the night commuters, the overcrowded camps, with little food and no land for farming and stories told by ex-LRA children and other victims of torture, murders, mutilation and rape.
The film also features high-profile interviews with human rights experts and politicians including Samantha Power - Professor of Practice - Carr Center for Human Rights Policy; Noam Chomsky - Political Activist; Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Honourable Lloyd Axworthy - Canada's former Minister of Foreign Affairs; as well as Ugandan-born Mahmood Mamdani - Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and former Director, Institute of African Studies, at University of Columbia; and Betty Bigombe - former Ugandan Cabinet Minister and Chief Peace Mediator between the LRA and government of Uganda since 1994.
Betty Bigombe at GuluWalk, Washington DC 2005.
I had an opportunity to chat with the Producer of the film, Montreal-born Alison Lawton who is currently residing in Vancouver, British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada. Alison is Founder and Director of Mindset Media. Alison began her career in private equity sales at Investor First Financial Corporation where she specialized in film, television and real estate. In 1997, she founded Winfield Venture Group, an angel investment and corporate finance boutique.
As an outspoken advocate, organizer and producer, Alison has been involved with the International AIDS Conference, Tsunami Relief, Greater Vancouver Food Bank, the Acumen Fund, Peace Child International, Earth Day International and the Clinton Global Initiative, OXFAM, War Child.
In addition to completing Uganda Rising, Alison recently funded a short film on children's HIV/AIDS for UNICEF. She is also a Campaign Chair for the Act for Stolen Children in Northern Uganda. As the producer of the film she had quite a bit to say...
Alison Lawton: Filming Uganda Rising
Jane: You must be excited about the screening of the film.
Alison: Well it will be nice to finally get it out there for public viewing. Most of the work that I have been doing is more political with Betty (Bigombe). I am a funder. I have been supporting her political projects - the peace talks, taking her to the UN and meeting with Jan Egeland and other people to talk about the political perspective. The film component is a great way to reach mass audiences. I get to partner with all these NGO's like GuluWalk and War Child. I am sure you've seen the different groups on the website...
Yes, I have...
(To see list of groups click here- http://www.ugandarising.com/involved.html)
Basically the film is a tool. We were trying to create a documentary that was informative, educational but also a passionate forum to get people thinking and acting. We did not want to create a recreational documentary.
Why did you come up with the name Uganda Rising? What does it mean to you?
Well to me it symbolizes the change and transformation of Uganda. Beyond the humanitarian crisis, it is a country which has been well-admired in Africa. It's a leading African nation. So this is an opportunity for the people of Uganda to take charge of their own destiny and to also effect change.
There are lots of social issues occurring in the world and especially in Africa. Darfur for example is another issue that is ongoing. What made you choose to make a documentary on Gulu?
I did not really choose it. It chose me. I was inspired by a friend of mine, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Lloyd Axworthy. We were having dinner at my house and we were talking about how Canadians can actually effect change in Africa. I had just stopped working and had two kids and I told him that I wanted to so something more in media, because my background is in communications. He said I should go and make an educational video and he connected me with Dr. Erin Baines. We agreed to make an educational film which later turned into a feature film documentary. We wanted to affect more people than just tourists. We realized that we needed more people involved to create it, more human capital. Of course when I got there I realized that it was more than just an educational video and I had a lot of access to resources.
What was your analysis when you visited Gulu? First of all when were you last there?
I was there a year and a half ago. September 2004. But I have been back numerous times. I just came back from touring there with Betty (Bigombe) in February of this year, meeting with various different Cabinet Ministers of Uganda. I even met President Museveni.
What I am learning through all these various political meetings is that even if there is peace, even if all of a sudden Museveni captured the rebels, even if the ICC prosecuted the rebels, even if they told everyone in the camps that it is time to go home, the truth is that there still is no financial institution to take care of the people of Northern Uganda. The UN agencies would cease providing that humanitarian aid because it is no longer considered to be a country that is under a crisis. The Ugandan government would be the ones who would have to provide financial help to the people. They don't have the money. They are looking for economic developments. Then we need the World Bank and IMF to set those up. They are looking for organizations; commercial enterprises to help them provide for and get the people back on their feet again.
So even if all of the positive political energy is accessible - whether it's the UN Special Convoy or the Peace Secretariat or whether all the rebels come home and some of them get indicted, there is still that question of what is happening next.
There is still Step Two...
Well there is Land Rights negotiations for example. Some of these people have been in the camps for many years. Then there are children with no parents! How can they make Land Rights demands to what their parents used to own? This used to be one of the most fertile soils in that country! So you start to see all these complexities and realize that it's very challenging. It's not just about a change in policy. It's about a uniform commitment and collaboration by the politicians, private enterprise and the civil society. The investment and business community, everyone should get together and work together. It's difficult but they should figure out a strategy to work together.
So I suppose that would be the challenge for the government right now. Because there are reports that the war is over or it is ending.
Alison Lawton: Filming Uganda Rising
Yes. The challenge is defining that next step, the one which makes sense to stop the suffering for one thing. Then they also have to provide the infrastructure and support for the rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction. How are these people going to move on and not be dependant on humanitarian aid? How do you empower them with financial tools to take care of themselves? There are very complex strategies which need to be considered.
So is there hope for places like Darfur and Gulu?
Absolutely! There is hope because the people are resilient number one. They are not a people who have chosen to give up. They see opportunities and I think it's a matter of providing them with the tools that they are asking for. They are looking for investment and development funds as well as guidance to help restructure them into the next phase of their lives after the end of the war if indeed it is around the corner. They need safety and security. They need the ability to be able to rehabilitate.
If you had the ability to make it right, what would you do? If you were sitting across a table of decision makers in the world community what would you advise them to do about the situation?
(Laughs) That's too big of a question for me to answer! My hope is that people start working more collaboratively together, not just UN organizations, but everyone should collaborate in all the humanitarian and political affairs. They need to sit together at the table and develop solutions. I am not talking about just conversation and dialogue; I am referring to implementation of ideas and solutions. We've had enough conversation.
Filming Uganda Rising
Twenty years of it...
Yes. That is a long time!
I have noticed Darfur is finally getting media attention now that Hollywood celebrity George Clooney is involved. How do you think a tool like Uganda Rising will help the people of Gulu?
I think it will reach mass audiences emotionally with a call for action. It would be great to get celebrity endorsement. Again flash back to two years ago and Northern Uganda was not even a blimp in the media radar. Very little was known about it. We've facilitated more awareness. We facilitated Vanity Fair going to Gulu which was covered in January of this year. We've facilitated interviews with Betty (Bigombe) on the BBC, Reuters and CBC in Canada. We've facilitated for Dr. Erin Baines to have a whole documentary made of her. Those are some of the things we've done as an organization.
It's not just about the film. We've made an effort to get it out there in the mainstream media and it changes people's perception. People are saying Oh my gosh! This is not acceptable! So we are not about fundraising. The film is not just about telling the story. It's one tool that we've used to engage in order to get more exposure for the issue.
Darfur has been very aggressive with the whole situation there and having George Clooney is certainly helping. Now we need to get someone like Angelina Jolie or Ralph Fiennes or even Don Cheadle on board. Ralph and Don have been to Uganda. So now we just need find that key person to spearhead this internationally. I mean the fact that we were on The Oprah Show is huge!
I agree. It was a major boost.
It's just absolutely huge. So people are paying attention and that's a good thing because that is a lot of pressure that the Canadians and Americans are putting on not just the UN but also the Ugandan government. We are paying attention and we are watching you because we care. I am hopeful! I know that as people get more involved they will take upon themselves the responsibility to protect the children - because it is our responsibility.
You began your career at Investor First Financial Corporation where you specialized in film, television and real estate. Then you founded Winfield Venture Group, an angel investment and corporate finance boutique. Your organization specifically focuses on child rights initiatives. Why child rights?
Because children are our future. In the opening of the film we talk about how it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
What a powerful sentence! You have expressed it very eloquently...
Well we need to help the children. When I went there were lots of children who told me, not to forgot them and I let them know that I would do anything in my power to help them and get their story out there.
Filming Uganda Rising
The Vancouver Sun, Pete McCormack is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, poet, producer and director writes this. Jesse Miller is an experienced film editor, director and writer. How did you get together?
(Thoughtfully) Pete and Jesse. They were referred through a friend. I was looking for a writer/director/editor team that was willing to do this. They had lots of freedom and they are both very spiritual guys. I let them know that this was not about something that we have to sell. This is a tool to make people know about the situation there. We are not trying to sell this to broadcasters. If the broadcasters want it, they can have it for free. I will re-edit it for television. I just want to get the word out there. The most important thing was how we can influence the greatest amount of people?
I got a glimpse of your movie trailer on your site. Some of the images were very graphic and very disturbing, for example there is one of a little dead boy lying on the ground with his brains spilling out. How effective is it to show these images?
That was the choice of the writer and director, of the editor. I agree that we can soft-sell these things or we can be bold and show the truth of what goes on there. Again a lot of people do not have that creative licence to do that. We were able to use that creative licence. It's shocking and disturbing I agree.
Well it certainly demonstrates the depth of how horrible this is...
It's not about people starving in these camps, it's about the brutality. You have to understand that they cut off hands, feet and lips and ears. We had a women walked us bit by bit through the brutality of what happened to her. You hear from a boy, a child, who tells how he beat people to death with a stick until he sees their brain matter. The rest of the world needs to hear this. Main stream media does not allow us to experience that. It's too horrific.
So in other words it means that a lot of these kids will need to go through some kind of mental rehabilitation...
Oh absolutely! They are working on programmes right now. Some of the NGO's are definitely trying to design some programmes in that respect and working with various groups to see what works. But they need money. Ending the war is one thing but...
There is Step Two. Rehabilitation and rebuilding as well...
I know that you are screening your movies this week and weekend in Toronto. For those in Toronto, where can we see the screenings of the film?
Thursday, May 4, 2006 9:30 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
93 Charles Street West
(one block south of Avenue Road and Bloor Street West)
Toronto, ON M5S 1K7
Ph: (416) 813-4092
*** SOLD OUT ***
Saturday, May 6, 2006 7:00 PM
Innis Town Hall
2 Sussex Avenue
(one block south of St. George Street and Bloor Street West)
Toronto, ON M5S 1J5
Ph: (416) 946-7066
For more information on the film Uganda Rising, please go to http://www.ugandarising.com
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First published: May 4, 2006
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.