“Whatever I’ve done. I’ve been staring down a barrel of a gun.” Depeche Mode’s lead off track from 1997’s ULTRA may be an unlikely association to the plight of the African continent’s peoples for many in this world, but it is an unlikely one that captures the desperate challenging diligence to overcome unwarranted hostility that many have.
And as all eagerly await the forthcoming kick-off on the pitch for historical African launch of FIFA WORLD CUP 2010 in South Africa, one of the most poignant foreshadowing pictures presented itself well ahead that displays the resolute vitality of the people of a continent regularly challenged that has been continually diminished for decades, centuries. Nevertheless, it is perhaps on the cusp of something beautifully bountiful to unfurl to hopefully open the next chapter of its heavily conflicted and forsaken continent and peoples.
Sitting down withWAR CHILD Director C. Karim Chrobog in Tokyo, all was set aside in giving a clear scope into the passion and drive that remarkably marks the challenges able to overcome through the story of the Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal, who found his redemption and was freed through his musical ability and fortitude and has never forgotten his rich roots to move ahead.
THIRSTY: Karim, have you contacted any other festivals to present it?
Karim: Yes. I would say, we have played over 30 festivals around the world. We premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and made the North American premiere at the Tribeca Festival... So actually we are coming to an end to it.
THIRSTY: Is this the last one then (Tokyo Refugee Festival)?
Karim: It seems it’s really never the last one. Which is a good thing. It shows the film has a life cycle. It is definitely winding down in the last year and a half.
THIRSTY: So here I have “Clean up,” a pocket ashtray. For you, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, what in your filmmaking makes you want to clean up?
Karim: In what context?
THIRSTY: Well as far as an artist, I imagine that you are always looking at progress, moving ahead. In making WAR CHILD, what do you feel that you felt you had to clean up?
Karim: You know this film deals with some pretty difficult, complicated and emotional stuff, about child soldiers, refugees, genocide and war. So, all what we can do is bring attention to these issues. We hope it can get other people involved and tell them to take a stake in the environment and let them know that they can be engaged and can make a better community, society and world.
C. Karim Chrobog (right)
THIRSTY: What about for yourself?
Karim: That is so of the art of behind it. Doing a documentary…
THIRSTY: Is it therapy?
Karim: It has its therapeutic moments. It connects you to other people and other stories. By making a film, you are cleaning up in a way.
THIRSTY: And what do you feel is on the next on the horizon?
Karim: An issue area that needs to be addressed and to be covered… You have to get out of your current mindset to get into the next thing.
THIRSTY: With the World Cup, have you thought of doing something that ties into it?
Karim: It would be fascinating to do something to do with the World Cup in South Africa, but at the end of the day, you move a lot of projects forward and you see which one naturally happens because most of them don’t. Then that’s the one you end up pursuing.
THIRSTY: Will you pursue, submit your film to the World Cup?
Karim: You know what, I was unaware that they were into that?
THIRSTY: Well, you never know and it is worth investigating.
Karim: Yeah, I will do so.
THIRSTY: So for you, as a filmmaker, what has been your biggest guiding light?
Karim: I guess you start seeing the world around in a totally completely different perspective. In making these films happen and I think you think you start recognizing that this impact can have and I think that this impact can be vary satisfying. It is a highly emotional process, hoping at the end of the day that something good comes good from it.
THIRSTY: Looking at an eraser, what do you feel that you cannot be erased?
Karim: Well, somebody asked me, a young student asked me, “What do we have to do to create a peaceful world.” And that’s a really good question if you stop and think about it. But don’t erase your past. I told him, “You are somebody who has experienced something unique. Don’t erase your past.” It is very easy to not be involved. I think he was a refugee from Laos. He has apparently gone through some difficult things and wanted to know what he could do. And I told him that you are in a position, having gone through such an experience, and that you should look at yourself as somebody who can carry a message and can act as a vehicle to bring attention to what has happened to you, and in this case Laos. So don’t erase your past. Embrace it and also recognize your possibility because it is very easy to, uh, not be involved, to let everybody else do the work because you a) think it’s to big for you and b) you don’t recognize the power of your own possibility.
WAR CHILD (2008)
THIRSTY: In looking at history, we have a legacy of imperialism and nationalism.
THIRSTY: And you can’t have one without the other.
THIRSTY: So is there anything you would erase?
Karim: No. I think you make decisions and if you make decisions, informed and with the best intentions, then you just cannot have any regrets.
THIRSTY: Now, Emmanuel, are you regularly in touch with him?
THIRSTY: When will you see him next?
Karim: I’m not sure, but maybe in a couple of months.
THIRSTY: But for you, your motivation for each… is there something you’d like or feel compelled to be both unlocked or locked?
Karim: As a filmmaker, as a poet, as a musician, as a storyteller, you are always trying to use your art to best of its possibility so I think it is more unlocked than locked. What we unlock are stories that we feel to be compelling and that we need to be told and shared with the rest of the world so I think it is more unlock than lock. Everybody else is locking and then we are trying to unlock these stories and show them and share them.
THIRSTY: So what do you feel is the ultimate locksmith then?
Karim: The status quo. Apathy…People have a lot to gain from not dealing with issues. Um, the status quo is always beneficial to those with a stake in it… Change is always difficult, on any issue. It is easy not to be involved and to keep a country closed up. We are in a global community and as such, so we have to deal with such a hard environment around us.
THIRSTY: In your 5 years as a filmmaker, what has been the biggest motivator to follow through?
Karim: Recognizing that we are onto something, something that really needs to be told. In terms of obligation, that you know that you need to bring those to light, whether it’s Emmanuel’s story or other child soldiers to light.
THIRSTY: Did you ever see SCREAMERS?
Karim: No, I unfortunately no. I will for sure.
THIRSTY: Please do. Now this, it’s just a toy gun…
C. Karim Chrobog
THIRSTY: Made in Japan, but after making WAR CHILD, do you look at it differently?
Karim: Well, I guess it’s a tragedy. These weapons, in the hands of kids, are kind of the worst things to imagine. I remember many, many screenings where parents came up and said I brought my 7-year old kid, my teenager because I want them to see where they grew up, playing basketball, baseball and hanging out with friends and how kids younger than them don’t have this opportunity. And I think, a gun symbolizes a toy or it symbolizes power if you are carrying it. And it symbolizes death if you are a boy soldier in Sudan. So this thing, having as a toy, it’s a very dangerous thing because you know, this is very serious stuff. And yeah, as a toy I guess, the value of it has a different one now.
THIRSTY: I wonder, I don’t know if you ever asked Emmanuel, since you have gotten to know him quite well I’m sure, what would be his gut reaction?
Karim: Um, he’d probably be a good sport about it. He probably wouldn’t like it though. He’d probably tell you that. This is the reason for a lot of horrible things that he has seen. It makes sense. He used to carry one.