Friday, January 23, 2009

Echoes from the documentary film Reporter

This morning was strange. I was dozing through my alarm clock blasting NPR and my husband said, "Listen to this! It's that guy from the movie!" Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda had been arrested near the Congo Rwanda border. A week ago that name would have had no meaning for me, and I would have had no interest in that region. I was pyschically numbed hearing about stories from Africa. But Sunday at Sundance Ranch, I saw the documentary Reporter about the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof. It was an excellent film and very moving.

The documentary is mostly about a trip that Kristof took to Rwanda and Congo with two young people. He felt that he was getting desensitized to these tragic stories, and held a contest to bring a young person with him to Africa. A young medical student and a teacher came with him and blogged about their experiences on the NY Times website. During the trip, they had a terrifying visit with Nkunda at his base in the jungle. The strange thing is that Nkunda was so charming, even though thousands of people have been killed or raped because of his men. It was like Last King of Scotland and Whitaker's portrayal of Idi Amin. That same charm of the sociopath. Nkunda even had grace said before their meal, and called himself a pastor. It was surreal, and you were afraid as Kristof dared to ask him questions like "Why do you think people call you a war lord?" And what do you do when a war lord invites you to stay for dinner?

Nicholas Kristof almost single handedly brought the genocide in Darfur to our attention. Mia Farrow became involved in the Darfur crisis because of Kristof's columns. He tries to tell the story of one individual in his columns to make you care about what is happening in these far away places. Kristof in the film talked about the research that shows if you are shown a picture of one African suffering child you will be more likely to donate more than if you are shown a picture with 2 children. It only decreases the more suffering children you see in the picture. Humans are wired to become psychically numb when the numbers become statistics. Kristof tries to break through that in his columns, and so does Eric Daniel Metzgar, the director of this documentary. After the screening, the producer and director even handed out buttons that were the red circle and line through the words "Psychic Numbing".

Metzgar filmed this himself in Congo following Kristof on his journey. He edited the film, as well. It is amazingly brave film making, and a film I urge everyone to see. Ben Affleck is an executive producer, and the film will be seen on HBO later this summer, I believe.

I was certainly changed by this film. I read this article this morning about Nkunda's arrest with new eyes, and heard the NPR report with new ears. I can't wait to read what Kristof has to say about what it means. I am no longer pyschically numbed.

Update: Kristof is running another contest to win a trip with him for American students over 18.


  1. Great piece! BTW, the correct spelling is "Kristof." One "f."