During the 2008 Indianapolis International Film Festival, Hoosiers had the opportunity to see "Iron Ladies of Liberia," a documentary account of the rise of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson as President of Liberia and her efforts to bring Liberia back to vibrance after years of civil war.
Score one for the 2008 Heartland Film Festival.
Vastly superior in virtually every way to "Iron Ladies of Liberia," Crystal Heart Award-winning and winner of Heartland's Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is the story of how the women of Liberia, Christian and Muslim, united to win back their country from its tyrannical leader, Dr. Charles Taylor.
For those unfamiliar with the true story, it is a remarkable one that powerfully brings to life the power of peace to overcome violence.
Thousands of Liberian women, both Christians and Muslims, had grown weary of a war in their nation that had cost lives, led to near financial ruin for the nation and created unsafe neighborhoods across the country. Unfathomably in cooperation, these Christians and Muslims began gathering for peaceful prayer and protest across from the presidential palace. Despite threats by Taylor of retribution, the women continued to gather and their numbers and influence began to grow.
They prayed. They chanted. They shouted. They withheld sex from their husbands. These women used their power to force change.
By not taking sides, saying both Taylor's armies and the rebels were devastating the country, the women over time forced both sides to the negotiating table. When negotiations stalled amidst complacency on both sides, the women again assertively, yet peacefully, forced action that led to the ending of Taylor's reign of terror and the African nation's democratically elected new leader, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first female head-of-state for an African nation.
Directed by Gini Reticker, an Oscar nominee in 2004 for Best Documentary Short, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is astonishing in the way that it portrays the devastation of Liberia without every drowning in it. Reticker's film is very clearly about the resilience of the human spirit, the ability of an individual or a small group of people to effect change, and the power of peace to transcend evil.
Liberia, a nation founded as a sort of "promised land" for freed slaves, had over the years become anything but a safe haven...a promised land. Instead, Liberia had become a place where children became soldiers at an early age, rape was largely a fact of life and brutality seemed to be a given. The United Nations had failed to effect change, and there was growing division among Christians and Muslims.
The women of Liberia changed it all.
Reticker's film, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," captures it all poignantly, honestly and with tremendous spirit. The film also won Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Witness Award at Silverdocs 2008.
For more information on "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," visit the film's website. The film is currently preparing to go into limited release with distributor Balcony Releasing.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic