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After Kony: Staging Hope

Release Year:         2011
Studio:         First Run Features
Format:         subtitled; NTSC; widescreen
Rated:         Not Rated
# of Discs:         1
Running Time:         99 minutes
DVD Release Date:         December 11, 2012
Screenwriters:      Paul Freedman
Directors:         Bil Yoelin
Actors:         Melissa Fitzgerald
E:Top Picks Rating:       8.5 / 10

First Run Features write-up
AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE follows a team of actors, playwrights, and activists who use theater to help Ugandan teens share their story of resilience through a childhood filled with terror caused by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Many of the teens were former child soldiers or sex slaves that escaped from their Lord’s Resistance Army abductors. By dramatizing their stories, the teens are able to explore their traumatic past, as well as share their voices with the community and the world. The result is an epic film that reveals the vulnerable moments and powerful bonds that connect all of us as humans, no matter where we live or what we have gone through.

Jon Ted Wynne review:
Talk about a film that has its heart in the right place! There is much to admire about AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE, as well as the individuals who comprise the Voices of Uganda drama team and the filmmakers, that it almost seems unfair to mention any perceived flaws in the final product. So while it must be said this is not a perfect film, it is ultimately very inspirational and a unique testimony to the healing power of drama.

Before one gets to the film, however, it is helpful to remember that 2012 was the year to get Joseph Kony. Following a life-changing experience, American activist and filmmaker Jason Russell produced a short film exposing Kony’s diabolical career called “Kony 2012” which became an Internet sensation. Russell’s goal was to make Kony so famous that the world simply had no excuse to not go after him and stop his horrible regime. Along the way, Russell had a well-documented breakdown, proof of the toll this obsession to stop Kony has taken. Though Kony has cut and run from Uganda he is purportedly still active in places like the Sudan and the Congo. While it is hoped that he will soon be captured and tried for his crimes against humanity, it hasn’t happened yet, which makes the story of AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE, all the more poignant.

Back to the film. Actress Melissa Fitzgerald, who also co-produced AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE, is an ebullient and sincere leader of the Voices of Uganda team that travels to the historically-troubled African country to work with 14 teens in an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Northern Uganda. Using drama as a form of therapy to liberate the young people from the shackles of their recent traumas as kidnapped victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, Melissa and her team initiate a cultural exchange with the young people that is alternately fun, moving and amusing. It shows us that Art is the Great Equalizer.

Shot before the “Kony 2012” sensation, AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE provides further proof of the urgency with which the world needs to stand up to and end Kony’s shameful abuse of children. It also illustrates the need to take constructive measures to help Kony’s victims as they attempt to adjust back to some degree of normalcy. Granted, the Internally Displaced Persons camps are a poor substitute for the villages these teens call home, but they are useful as a place of transition, especially if important steps towards emotional and spiritual healing can be made such as are at the dramatic core of this fine documentary.

The details of the capture and enslavement the fourteen teens endured (and thousands like them) are difficult to talk about and listen to, as evidenced by the reluctant manner in which some of the teens speak on camera. Giving voice to these various traumas in the form of short plays that inform and teach others is a brilliant and effective way to build triumph out of tragedy. This alone makes AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE an important and effective film. The film’s legacy, however, is to be found in how the lives of the participants (both American and Ugandan) were changed by their shared experience. End titles indicate the success of the Voices of Uganda program was not an isolated event, and the use of drama to bring healing and hope is ongoing.

There are some minor distractions, such as one of the drama team hurting his ankle. The sequence is awkwardly presented and almost seems like an attempt to inject some drama into the team’s preparations. It adds nothing and isn’t necessary.

Fortunately, the pluses far outweigh the negatives in AFTER KONY: STAGING HOPE. The love, the hope, the desire for a new and better life–these things are palpable in the film. One can actually see on the faces of the visiting Americans that they are as deeply affected by this experience as the teens they have come to help. It’s a beautiful reminder that serving others is among the noblest acts any human being can perform.