On Northern Uganda: Documenting Scar Tissue In Uganda

I had a rare moment of reflection tonight. While the Lady packs her copious yuletide surprises I went through all the material we shot in Northern Uganda. The reels are  all stored – nameless – on a hard-drive we affectionately named ‘Matooke’. Clicking through each file feels like a digital carousel brimming with snapshots of stories waiting to be told. I feel that when Heidi gets the time to dust off the ferris wheel and takes that ride it’ll yield some kind of soaring beauty. We were there to shoot a follow up to our debut documentary on Sri Lanka. Whereas ‘The Truth That Wasn’t There’ provides a subjective analysis of the wake of one of the longest running conflicts in South Asia. ‘Forgive Me Mother’  – the working title of our Uganda effort – this time will be a more contemplative short form documentary about peace and reconciliation efforts in the northern area of Uganda – again post-war. The Acholi people, indigenous to Northern Uganda have lived through horrific realities where brutality, death, rape and abduction have scarred communities. We’ve since been commissioned by Warchild to use some of the footage to produce a short web video about their work with formerly abducted youth – the correct term for the young people the world has chosen to brand ‘child soldiers’. I would have loved to continue the visual trail and have the third film we do as a collective to focus on a similar aspect of post-war scar tissue. But I think after a month in Uganda we will choose not to. Having lived among these people, the stories we heard, the faces seared in our memories and the paths you cross as a documentarian, journalist and as a person – you look a woman, a grandmother in the eyes as she tells you the happy child playing in her lap may well have contracted A.I.D.S through her deceased mother, her daughter – that is something you don’t cross back from. That path only goes one way. Like the people of Northern Uganda we learnt to use our experience to forge new paths ahead.

A lot has happened since our arrival back from those red dirt tracks. Namely getting the final cut of ‘The Truth That Wasn’t There’ mixed  and ready for release – still in the process – but looking back at the snatches of video we posted over the net from Uganda I can see our own faces quiz our place among the lives around us. Much like our Sri Lankan sojourn I felt a shift and I know Heidi did too. I expect those fractures of maturity to be mirrored in the tone of the piece whenever we get around to it.


UGANDA: FIRST SNAPSHOT – This was filmed on our first morning if I remember correctly. We were walking to the Warchild offices for the first time. Watching it over now I cringe at the three ridiculously dressed tourists sauntering through a village giving the wink and the gun to the children we pass. It’s pretty indicative of who we were back then. We were oblivious, stupid and excited. I did feel a pang of conscience at the end of the video as you might see  – I pressed ‘stop’ just before I finished my sentence. The missing last word is ‘ – shit’ listen out for it.


UGANDA: CHARMING CHILDREN – Every walk home we were accosted by this rag-tag mob. They ranged from the impossibly tiny to the cheeky loudmouth. The little girl in the centre became my personal favourite, here I am coaxing her into giving us her regular catchphrase. Every time we past her mud-hut she would dash out from whatever puddle she was playing in, fizzing with energy, only to abruptly stop in front of us – usually Heidi – contort her face into a caricature and stick her hand out and say ‘YOU GIVE ME MONEY!’ and then burst out laughing. I hardly think she knew what she was saying, only repeating what someone had told her to ask us ‘Muzungu’ foreigners. I tried to catch it on film but I failed.


UGANDA: SURROUNDED BY KIDS AT PAIPIR SCHOOL – We visited a school in Pader town called Paipir School. When we were quietly sitting waiting for a football match to start we gradually noticed a swell of smiling, staring faces congregate around us. Soon enough we were surrounded and couldn’t move for tiny feet, hands and adorable faces. The cameo at the end is of a friend we met out there Steve Tharakan who was in town initiating a football scheme designed for community building, one of many schemes around that had similar ends. A great guy and a great program.


CODOC/MINI-DOC: UGANDA VLOG 1 – This was the first vlog we did at the guest house we were staying at. It’s embarrassing how wide-eyed we were at the beginning of our month long stay. We reflect on some cultural clashes – Pader Town is devoutly Christian and we had just come back from Sunday mass. An interesting experience. Surreal at times. But important in terms of the working relationship we wanted to build with the people we were likely to meet in the coming weeks.


CODOC/MINI-DOC: UGANDA VLOG 2 – Our second vlog was made outside the Warchild offices. This I believe was after a week and a half of field work. We had spoken to formerly abducted youth, child mothers and orphans. I think it’s clear in how we speak about them the impression these kids – some our own age – had on us. We made friends there, all of whom humble you to the core. Listening to them share their stories imbue you with a sense of great responsibility. Trust for me now is no longer simply a device journalists, filmmakers use to peruse intimacies. At it’s most delicate level it is the ability to empathize, the ability to temper yourself to listen with your eyes. The precise skill of getting what needs to be got on tape without exploiting the most fragile part – the story teller – I liken that skill to alchemy. Heidi performed her reporting role with subtle grace, feeling her way through most interviews as if it was second nature. It was inspiring to watch.


CODOC/MINI-DOC: UGANDA VLOG 3 – On the other side of the tunnel. We were in Cairo, our Ugandan beat over. We were in slumber most of the time at that point – in a haze of the golden sandy light of Egypt. Here we speak about the images, faces and friends that stuck out in our memories. Our experiences, the challenges and tremors within. Again, it’s funny watching this back to back with our first vlog.  I see the narrative of ‘Forgive Me Mother’ written on our faces, our skin like etched papyrus baked under Africa’s sun. We speak as we listened –  as if conduits for a greater tale. All thats left now is to tell it.


Finally – here is a Teaser Trailer for ‘Forgive Me Mother’. Please post, comment, share  – join the conversation.


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