In the words of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the Congo) experiences the equivalent of “a tsunami every six months.” Every day in the Congo, 1,200 people die from conflict-related causes. With an estimated 4 million deaths in the last decade, the conflict and its ongoing aftermath represent the greatest loss of life in any war since World War II.
Getting a grasp on the Congo — its wars, political machinations and bewildering ethnic rivalries — is difficult, perhaps contributing to the relative obscurity of the humanitarian disaster on the world stage. We only began to understand it ourselves when we spent the fall of 2004 in the frontier town of Goma. We were volunteers making medical informational videos for HEAL Africa Hospital, an NGO whose directors were our generous hosts.
The Congo’s wealth of beauty and its tragic history could occupy any filmmaker for a thousand years, but we were compelled to choose this story because of its searing immediacy. Each day, as we filmed at the hospital, flatbed trucks arrived filled with women from the rural highlands. The passengers were all victims of systematic rape and torture, and all suffered from a debilitating condition known as traumatic fistula. Many were our age and became our friends. We knew this tragedy was ongoing, yet the world seemed to know nothing about it, and we felt helpless in its wake.
We returned to the Congo in the fall of 2005 eager to put a human face on this situation, something that we found interviews alone could not do. We decided that shooting in an observational style could personalize the disaster for a viewer in the same way that it had become personal for us.
Back at HEAL Africa, we found our subject. Lumo was at the center of a group of girls going stir-crazy waiting for treatment, passing the time playing jacks, catching grasshoppers and singing hymns. When we asked whether anyone would like to share their story with us, Lumo was the first to step forward, cementing her reputation for brashness among the patients. Spending some time with Lumo, we began to look up to her — not because of the magnitude of her disaster, but because of the warm and mischievous spirit she retained despite that experience.
She is a profoundly normal young woman in many ways. Her hopes of marriage and a family were dashed by the injuries her attackers inflicted, but in her struggle to recover, she distinguished herself with courage, as demonstrated by her will to return again to her village, a place where renegade militias continue to roam.
We are convinced that the extreme nature of the hardships faced by people in places like the Congo, Darfur and such other conflict zones around the world need not overwhelm our ability to empathize, as the “objective” point of view expressed in news reports often does. We believe that documentaries can allow us to see human suffering more clearly, and we hope that with empathy will come renewed efforts to bring such suffering to an end.
We also hope that after seeing this film, you will see these women as courageous survivors, and no longer as helpless victims. We also hope that you will understand the weight of official prejudice stacked against them and find ways to support their campaign for basic human rights.
— Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III