By: Gordon K. Smith
One of the most horrifying aspects of a horrifying epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe (now the world’s most AIDS-infected country) is a prevalent urban myth that infected men there can “cure” themselves by raping virgins, the younger the better. The result has been thousands of reports of girls, from the age of babies, physically and emotionally scarred, and this epidemic-within-an-epidemic continues.
A new documentary, “Tapestries of Hope”, directed by Michaelene Risley and produced by Anand Chandrasekaran, follows the efforts of American filmmaker Risley to champion Betty Makoni, a Zimbabwean woman who, in 1998, started the Girl Child Network to help victims of this outrage. Both women are survivors of sexual abuse. In an e-mail interview, Knowshi spoke with Anand about his in-progress film, his cause, and his innovative internet funding schemes.
Knowshi: What is your background as a filmmaker?
AC: I have pursued a personal passion for transformative mass media and produced/executive produced several shorts and three feature length indie films, one of which was invited to the 2007 Sundance Producers’ Conference. Before “Tapestries of Hope”, I executive-produced the thriller “Carma” featuring Karen Black and directed by Ray Arthur Wang (also a producer on Tapestries). As a part of these film project teams I drove several film firsts including releasing a feature film exclusively on in internet-based pay-per-view platform, raising financing for a documentary from friends who believe in the project, and using a Flash Mob to promote a special screening.
Knowshi: How did you get involved with filming Michaelene and Betty’s story?
AC: Michaelene Risley and I met at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. Since then we have been collaborating. Michaelene heard Betty Makoni speak at an IDEX event in San Francisco, after a mutual writer friend introduced them. Michaelene previously wrote and directed the short film “Flashcards”, which focused on child sexual abuse. She was uniquely qualified to tell Betty’s story. She traveled to Zimbabwe in fall 2007 to film the Girl Child Network and Betty Makoni’s story. Other members of the core team.
Knowshi: Can you go into detail about the arrest of Michaelene and Betty?
AC: In the second week of their shoot in Zimbabwe (about 4 months after we decided to do this project), Michaelene and her assistant Lauren and well as Betty were arrested by the Central Intelligence Office (CIO). They were interrogated and detained in a 4 x 4 cell and then deported after over 24 hours of this episode. Yet, Michaelene managed to bring back over 22 hours of footage filmed in the country on this important social issue. We worked with several social organizations as well as the embassy during this period, led by Michaelene’s family to bring them back safely into the U.S. She wrote an exclusive piece on the aftermath of the incidents in Zimbabwe:
Knowshi: How does www.indiegogo.com work to complete funding of your film?
AC: In late 2007, “Tapestries of Hope”’s blog won the “media blog of the year” award from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR). IndieGoGo provided a platform to mobilize the core audience that was motivated by the subject matter to get involved, from both a time, as well as a financial, commitment. By offering different levels of perks the film quickly rose to do three successful fundraising campaigns in a relatively short time, and became the top fundraiser on the site. This is in no small part due to the live-blogs from Zimbabwe and the subsequent writings on the subject on The Huffington Post. We also are working to leverage this community and motivate them to action once the film has been completed.
Knowshi: And once it is complete, what are your plans for the film?
AC: We have a two-pronged strategy, focused on the festival route (solid interest in the project so far), as well as special screenings in partnership with social organizations. For instance, last year Michaelene was invited to the United Nations and we’re working to do a special screening there post-completion. And we do intend to get the film seen in Zimbabwe.
There are great examples of documentaries that have motivated social and behavioral change, most notably “An Inconvenient Truth”. Stay tuned on our progress through the film’s website and the blog (http://savehope.blogspot.com).
Knowshi: Why does this epidemic of rape continue? Cannot the men involved see that their actions are only making the AIDS crisis much worse?
AC: It’s a complicated issue — a combination of social pressures, larger political circumstances, lack of clean water, the malaria situation and, critically, the lack of legal enforcement. Mostly, though, there isn’t enough global awareness of the issue at any level, beyond a cursory knowledge. We hope to objectively explore the issues and help educate the public on the various ramifications and enable social change as a result of the awareness, demystification and education around the AIDS “urban myth.”
Knowshi: How would you like people to react after seeing your film?
AC: In the short term we would like to raise awareness, and also funds, for the work of organizations like The Girl Child Network. As the documentary showcases, this is a global issue and what is going on in Zimbabwe indicates the reality in several other countries. We are also hoping to generate more focus on the solutions and ways to make them happen. Share the realities around the issue and donate online through our website, www.tapestriesofhope.com.
We also want to invite volunteers and organizations who would like to partner with us to reach out.