Meet the Filmmakers: C. Karim Chrobog--'War Child'
Over the next few weeks, we at IDA
will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be
represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 8-14 in New York City and August 22-28 in Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share
the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles,
the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is C. Karim Chrobog,
director/producer of War Child.
Synopsis: War Child chronicles the tragic but ultimately hopeful life of Emmanuel Jal, a
former child soldier of Sudan's
brutal civil war and emerging international rap star with a message of peace
for his country. His story mirrors his homeland: tragedy and terror mingling
with hope and restoration. Orphaned, firing a gun that he at age seven could
barely hold aloft, trekking through deserts in search of shelter, Jal was
adopted by an aid worker. His rise from orphan to soldier to refugee to rap
star represents one of the 21st century's most inspiring and hopeful journeys.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary
C. Karim Chrobog: I never planned to be a
filmmaker. Far from it, I was planning to go into the diplomatic service
following the steps of quite a few family members in Europe.
I did always have a passion for documentary films though. My co-producer and I
also like music, so we thought it would be interesting to do a documentary series
about the explosion and globalization of music around the world. We looked for
compelling musicians and came across Emmanuel Jal, who, as a former child soldier
turned global rap star (soundtrack for Blood
Diamond, ER, Live8), has a particularly fascinating story to tell. We did not do
the series, though we are still looking at it now, and we focused on Emmanuel's
story as the one we wanted to pursue.
What inspired you to make War Child?
CKC: We have been
working on War Child for more than
three years. When I met Emmanuel for the first time in London, and learned about his astonishing
life story from child soldier to international hip-hop star, it was clear that
this story deserved telling. His winning character and musical talent make him
a compelling figure. Our screenings show that audiences are immediately hooked
and emotionally tied to his personality. He presents a unique opportunity to
address complicated issues, such as the use of child soldiers, the war in Sudan,
refugees and so on, but through the eyes of a musician.
War Child is not a
conflict documentary that leaves audiences hopeless because they don't know how
they can transform the experience that they have gone through watching the film
into concrete actions. The film presents real solutions. They are the same ones
that drive Emmanuel and serve as inspiration for his music, and have allowed
him to put his traumatic past aside and become an active participant in helping
his country move forward.
IDA: What were some of
the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome
CKC: War Child has been an incredibly
challenging film to make from many perspectives. As first-time filmmakers, we
had a very steep learning curve not only to understand what it takes to make a
film like ours, but also to convince funders to support our project.
Logistically, shooting in South Sudan,
a country that is just emerging from a long and brutal conflict, was tough, to
say the least. The country is one of the least developed places in the world. I
heard that there are 15 kilometers of paved roads in the whole South. There is
barely any existing phone system. Communication takes place through satellite
phones, and the only way to get around is by hitching rides on tiny humanitarian
UN planes. We had many bizarre experiences during our time there talking to
obscure characters, from bush pilots to warlords. Most memorable of these
experiences include getting stranded in the village of Leer
in the middle of absolutely nowhere; our plane did not show. Supplies were
short, it was brutally hot and the nearest shower was at least a three-hour
plane ride away. The other moment was trying to get permission to shoot the
demobilization of soldiers in the remote village of Rumbek.
Out of courtesy we tried to track down the local commander, who raced through
the village in a jeep mounted with a huge bullhorn, followed by pickup trucks
with heavy guns. Needless to say, the commander was not too impressed by our
request. But we were fortunate to see many places that we would have never seen
traveling in the contested oil fields or visiting sprawling refugee camps.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the
pre-production, production and post-production processes?
Child has gone through many changes, evolutions and looks. The biggest
challenge for us was to find the right balance between educating audiences
about the issues that the film strives to address and letting Emmanuel as the
central character tell his story. We also wanted to keep the film young and
exciting, and there is lots of great music that moves the various storylines
As you've screened War Child-whether on the festival circuit, or in
screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences reacted to the film? What
has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?
CKC: War Child has played at a number of
prestigious festivals, including Berlin for
our world premiere, Seattle, Edinburgh,
Jackson Hole and Tribeca, where we won the
Cadillac Audience Choice Award. The film has been honored by standing ovations
at every screening we have had.
More important, though, we have launched Gua Africa, a foundation
that provides education and builds schools for former Sudanese child soldiers
and Lost Boys in the Sudan.
We have received tremendous support from audiences, but one especially
memorable moment was when a lady came up to us after a screening at Tribeca and
handed us a check, even though she could barely afford her rent. She told me
that she had been so touched by the film that she felt compelled to do
something. Moments like this really show you the power of documentaries and the
level of awareness they can create and empower us to become involved.
What docs or docmakers have served as
inspirations for you?
CKC: Martin Scorsese
and Werner Herzog.
War Child will be
screening at the Village East Cinema in New
York and the Arclight Hollywood.
the DocuWeek schedule in New York City,
the DocuWeek schedule in Los Angeles,
purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the ArcLight Hollywood, visit www.arclightcinemas.com.