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Filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson shot, directed and edited the feature documentary "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," an exposé of armed militias who used rape and torture as a weapon of terror in civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jackson traveled to the DRC in 2006, meeting with victims, rapists, physicians and activists. In the film, she delicately weaves the story of the Congo with her own - 30 years earlier, she had been gang-raped in Washington, D.C.
What parallels did you discover in rape victims in the DRC and victims elsewhere?
Shame, trauma, guilt, self-blame, self-loathing, a degree of ostracism - all these of course tempered by class, circumstances and cultural context, but all existent to some degree.
Your own rape in 1976 was the emotional motivation for the film, but what factors led to your going to the DRC in 2006?
I'd been thinking for many years of doing a film about the other side of war, a documentary looking at women and girls and how they have been affected by modern conflict. And I wanted to do it from the perspective of sexual violence - my own incident was a defining moment for me (and for my family and for many of my friends), so I wanted to use that as a lens and look at how rape is used in war. Because of my peculiarly tuned radar, I'd been aware for a while of the horror unfolding in the DRC, and when a close friend working there offered to facilitate getting me U.N. credentials so I could travel freely into the heart of the beast, I jumped at the chance, flew to Kinshasa and soon found myself in the worst place imaginable, a hell on earth for women and girls.
What did you learn from the rapists themselves?
What does one learn . . . that men can be callous, cruel?. . . . I did learn a bit about my own limits, how far I'll go and how looking through a camera can dim the horror - and terror - of circumstances that are seriously beyond the pale.
There's always been a strong relationship in documentary film between witness and activism. Did the film activate the women?
Amnesty International gave me a grant to make a short, all-Swahili version of the film, and I had the opportunity to show it to a group of women at Panzi Hospital last May. The women were spellbound watching it (I have video of the screening) and when asked afterward for their reaction, it was universally positive. Several women said that the film taught them that getting raped was not their fault and that their husbands should still love them and stay with them despite what had happened. . . . But who knows how any of this might energize and activate them? [For victims of rape] . . . just getting through the day requires so much.
- Julie Checkoway
Next Screening: Thursday, 6 p.m., Broadway Centre Theatres in Salt Lake City, and Friday, 2:30 p.m., Library Center Theater in Park City.