Meet the Filmmakers: Gini Reticker--'Pray the Devil Back to Hell'
By Tom White
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 Gini Reticker, director of Pray the Devil Back to Hell..
the Devil Back to Hell is
the gripping account of a group of brave and visionary women who demanded peace
a nation torn by a decades-old civil war. The women's historic, yet unsung
achievement finds voice in a narrative that intersperses contemporary
interviews, archival images and scenes of present-day Liberia
together to recount the experiences and memories of the women who were
instrumental in bringing lasting peace to their country.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Gini Reticker: When I was a little kid I thought that heaven was a place where you could get an answer to any question you asked. Later in life, a lot of my friends started making docs, and I had the sense that they had gone to heaven. So, I did everything I could to join them. I worked a lot of overtime, saved up enough money to support myself for a few months, and offered to work for free. I did some archival research for Pam Yates, and she helped me get a job with Haskell Wexler, first in production and then in the edit room. I then started editing documentaries.
IDA: What inspired you to make Pray the Devil Back to Hell?
GR: I was incredibly lucky with Pray the Devil Back to Hell because the producer, Abby Disney, brought it to me. She had recently been to Liberia in support of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected president in Africa. While there, she had gotten wind of this amazing story about these women who had played a key role in bringing peace to Liberia. She really wanted to make a documentary. Coincidentally, we ran into each other after not seeing one another for years. We started to talk, found our passions and interests had followed the same path and began working together.
IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?
GR: All of the action in the story happened before we started filming, yet I wanted the audience to feel as if the story was unfolding in front of them. To do this, I was committed to telling the story from the women's point of view, in their voices, with no narration. At the same time, the story is based on historical events that I had to be accurate with. So, first I did preliminary interviews with the women, then I did a tremendous amount of research to piece their personal stories into the written and visual records of events. Many of the manuscripts that I was able to get my hands on hadn't been published yet. None of them offered an overview. Instead, each reflected the experience and perspective of the particular author. I spent months piecing all of the different threads together to come up with the storyline. Armed with that, I was able to go back and film the interviews with the women and find out how their story fit into the bigger picture. The hardest thing was piecing their narrative together in a way that enables the audience to understand the story and also feel intimate with the women. It took an enormous effort in the edit room.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?
GR: Ultimately, we used far more archival footage than I had anticipated. At first I had thought that I could somehow use lyrical images to tell the women's story, but it became obvious that without actual footage of what they were faced with, it was impossible to appreciate the scope of what they did.
IDA: As you've screened Pray the Devil Back to Hell-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?
GR: The reaction to the film has been tremendous. Nearly everyone who sees it has found the story inspiring in some particular way to their own life. One of my favorite moments was at the Tribeca Film Festival, when we saw the security guards covering for each other so that they could each sneak in to see the film. They walked off with all of our promotional material! It was great.
IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?
GR: The list is too long...I have learned as much from the documentaryv films that I haven't liked as the ones that I have loved.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell will be screening at the IFC Center in New York and the Arclight Theater in Sherman Oaks, Calif..
To view the DocuWeek schedule in New York City, visit http://www.documentary.org/content/docuweek-new-york.
To purchase tickets to DocuWeek NY, visit www.ifccenter.com and www.villageeastcinema.com.
To view the DocuWeek schedule in Los Angeles, visit http://www.documentary.org/content/docuweek-los-angeles.
To purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the ArcLight in Sherman Oaks, visit www.arclightcinemas.com.