Sundance Features

January 25, 2008

Lisa F. Jackson, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

"10 Darfurs have happened in the Congo in the last 10 years. Four million people have died. It's unimaginable."

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

THE REELER: Can you tell me about The Greatest Silence in your own words, including how you came to the subject?

LISA F. JACKSON: The Greatest Silence is about the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the systematic rape, torture and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of girls in that war -- and the use of rape as a weapon of choice. It's a topic that I've been interested in for a long time; I have a special interest in the issue of violence against women and girls, especially in conflict and post-conflict. I was researching a longer film that was going to be a compilation shot in five or six countries. I got credentials from the UN peacekeepers and went to the Congo; I went to the worst place first. I spent four months there on-and-off and realized it wasn't a segment but a film unto itself.

R: Considering the magnitude of the issue itself, not to mention the peril in covering it, how did you approach those four months as a filmmaker?

You don't really know you're going to pull it off until you've gotten back, looked at the footage, put something together and realized there's something viable. I went as a one-man band: I shot it and did all the sound myself. I was very low-profile. And because I had credentials with the peacekeepers, I was able to go with them on missions into the bush where I befriended mostly clergy -- they're the ones with the outposts deepest in the jungle. I'd stay in the bush for four or five days at a time interviewing women and getting to know the situation.

In terms of access, there were so many tens of thousands of women I was in contact with and dozens and dozens that I interviewed. It comes out in the film that when I was 25, I was gang-raped, and I tell all the women that I interviewed about my own experience and how much better it made me to actually speak about it. I'd written about it, and I brought those articles. They were stunned to see that; they would ask about the war in my country. But it was an icebreaker; I'm a white, middle-class woman in middle of the East African jungle, and I was a creature from another planet before they realized we had more in they common than they could ever imagine. In some cases, gender trumps everything.

R: There's an interesting quote in the Sundance notes: "He who rapes a woman rapes an entire nation." I have a feeling your film explains how, but can you unpack that a bit as it relates to Congo?

LFJ: The person who says that is a policewoman who is sort of a one-woman special-victims unit. I think she really hits it on the head, because the woman is really the center of the family and the center of the culture. When a woman is raped, she is, first of all, horribly mutilated; her childbearing years are over. She's basically destroyed. If her husband isn't murdered, he usually shuns her. He'll take another wife. The incontinence that often results from her injuries means she's shunned from the village. She will leave to seek medical help or an alternative shelter, often taking with her four, five, six children whom she cannot feed and who become easy pickings for the militia, who recruit them as child soldiers. Or a consortium might recruit them to work as slaves in the mines. So it's hitting at the heart of the culture when you destroy the women at its center. It's femicide -- it's war against women.

R: What kind of outreach is planned to get the film in front of not just filmgoers, but leaders with some influence over potential action?

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LFJ: We have a huge outreach program in place; the Soros Foundation is going to give us some money for starters. There are four separate areas: Women's health; women's economic empowerment; bringing justice to the victims; and the fourth is an awareness campaign to bring international opprobrium onto to Congo. We're showing it in The Hague to help perhaps start a prosecution against these generals; there are known players within [President Joseph] Kabila's government who are rapists. They walk free; for $5 a rape conviction can be tossed out of court and the papers burned. We're screening at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., hopefully to members of Congress there. It's opening night at the One World Film Festival in Prague; the entire festival will be used to raise money for the women of Congo, and we're working with grassroots organizations within Eastern Congo so whatever money we raise will get straight to the women and not get stuck in some bureaucracy.

But the first step is just bringing an awareness to the public; 10 Darfurs have happened in the Congo in the last 10 years. Four million people have died. It's unimaginable. We see how the Darfur campaign has been built, and we hope that this is the beginning of something similar for the women and girls of Eastern Congo.

R: And it all pretty much starts in Park City, where you're screening your world premiere. What do you have planned on a more microcosmic level? And do you have any nerves going in?

LFJ: The biggest fear I have is that people will be come so overwhelmed by what they see and hear in the film that they will feel like there's nothing they can do. But there's such incredible grace and dignity and intelligence in the women that you meet that I hope people will realize that reaching out to even one of them will make a difference for them. I haven't been to Sundance since it was the US Film Festival, and I'm really looking forward to the film being seen as a film -- not as a policy piece. I think that's one of the great honors of screening it there. Also, as a filmmaker, when you're working on something like this, you feel so isolated sometimes. To step out of the edit room or get your eye from the eyepiece and see the amazing variety of films that are being made -- and the people who are making them -- is a real affirmation about why you do it.

Comments (12)

interesting area that we could work in...perhaps?

I am deeply moved by what I saw on HBO 4/9/08. I cannot believe that my people can be so vicious. Please let me know how I can be of help to these women and children. Please.

Thank You.

Ms. Jackson, what I saw and heard during the documentary on April 9, 2008 on HBO was heartfelt and heartbreaking at the same time. As a woman, I can only imagine the pain, hurt, and suffering these sisters are enduring. I was moved so deeply, that I yearn to help in some type of way and encourage plus challenge other women to get involved. Please send me an address, phone number and contact person, so I may contribute to the cause. Thank you for exposing the truth and killing the SILENCE of RAPE in the CONGO.

I'm not sure who to contact about this question...I was raped for 10 years and I have been trying to decide what I want to do with my life..terrible cliche I know...but after watching your documentary I want to know what would be the best route of career to get into that would be helpful...I figured medical or nursing, but I thought I'd ask...if there is someone to put me in touch with that would be great

Bless you Lisa. I too am a survivor. I do not even know where to begin. I cryed and cry for these women and children. I have intense emotions about this matter. Lisa, I felt as though I was right there with you in Congo. Lisa, what you did was courageous and honorable. I pray for these women/children and Congo. On April 17,08 I attended a weekly prayer group with other women prayer warriors. One of them, had been in Kenya many times doing missionary work, I told her I wanted to pray for the women in Congo and she replied by showing me the prayer request note book that back in January of 08 she had added this issue on the prayer list. We all prayed that night for the people and that there be a major intercession upon Congo. I wanted also to get the name and address of the Doctor in Congo , A man of God, Bless him.
Lisa, Please let me know what we can do to help. Something has to be done and it will.
Thank-you Lisa Thank-you for using your gifts and talents to do God's work, Lets just hope that the people who really need to be moved in this matter are. How could anyone turn away from this unless they were demonic. Something has to be done or we will have to answer on judgement day, Oh yes, This is all temporary people, So listen to the crys of our people and do something, Please in the name of Jesus Do something!!!!!
Look forward to hearng from you and Bless all of you, Jo

To Shannon, and others alike

We are in the early stage of our ministry for survivors
of sexual abuse, an issue that affects all countries as well. This has been an issue that people have always turned away from, Why?? If it were their mother or sister would they turn away. I know we have come a little further than Congo, But still.
I would like all of the survivors to know that it was not your fault. You can and will heal. If you want to connect please refer to the website and if you need help with information I would be more than happy to help. Your not alone I am a survivor too. Blessings to you all.

Dear Lisa,

As I sat in my warm and comfortable home in Washington State on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, I watched your documentary “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo” on HBO. To say the least, it broke my heart to hear these poor women’s stories. I was appalled by the interviews of the rapist’s where they seem to all state that their purpose for their raping was due to their “loneliness” in the jungle or to gain unforeseen power against the enemy.

How does one stop the mindset of a male population that deems this hideous act as part of war? I am not a religious person but, is there merit in trying some type of media campaign that would scare the male population into the belief that a rapist will suffer the fate of their actions someday? It appears that some form of Christianity is in the Congo. Is there an overall general belief in a higher being (God) there amongst the population? If so, could a pictorial booklet be made to make the male population believe that eternal damnation awaits them in hell with their fate in hell to be the same as when they were alive and the attacker? Possibly being raped by a demon(s) for an eternity? This booklet could be distributed to literate and illiterate men to look at and contemplate their future actions. I don’t know if this would have any power in changing the way these men view raping a women but, if this booklet was graphic enough (especially the hell part) it may make them think twice about raping again.

J.G. MacKay

Thank you so much Lisa. I am so angry. I am trying to sleep last night after watching the documentary and I couldn't. I pray you have some type of log for everyone who would like to help. I would I wish I could bring them all to my home. I will take them in, I will 1, 5, 10 if they can come I will help them. Please if I can do anything that will directly help them please let me know.Another e-mail address Thank You.

I have never seen this film, but reading - for me - is enough. I have never been raped, but am highly emotional about the issue. But I need advice. I'm in my teens and don't have money to spare. I want to help - I NEED to help, but i don't know any way other than to donate... Can someone please suggest something for me? It would reach my heart. Thank you all.

Blessed Be,

I have not been the same after watching your HBO special....there is not a day I don't think about those women and children and pray for their protection both financially and humanitarily.

God bless you for your passion and dedication to their cause. Amazing.


I tried to watch the film and passed out even before it was half finished, I don`t think I can try to watch it again. But I want to help, in any way I can. I would like to know how I can donate funds directly to the hospital and I want to make sure that the money goes straight in to helping more women and girls, does ANYONE have suggestions how to do this?

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