First Run Features // 2011 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 26th, 2013
Healing former child soldiers of Joseph Kony's war in northern Uganda.
How do you even begin to heal after a prolonged nightmare? That is the impossible question facing the victims of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Emerging from the chaos of war-torn Uganda, many survivors of Kony's child guerilla forces have returned to their homes, damaged, distraught, and attempting to assemble the pieces of their broken lives.
Can theatrical drama play a role in unlocking forgiveness and kickstart the healing process? For a team of actors and writers they are hoping the answer is yes. These activists arrive in Uganda with big plans to bring the power of the theater to bear against an astonishing amount of leftover pain.
After Kony: Staging Hope documents the troupe's efforts. The cameras follow them as they engage with the teens, teach them the ropes on introductory theatrical production and coach them on how to tell their stories, which are brutal.
You won't have to wait long before feeling overwhelmed with perspective. We all have our share of trials and tribulations -- some more intense than others -- but listening to the hair-raising tales these kids have to tell delivers a mallet-shot to the brainpan. These stories of death, rape, and family loss are devastating and arrive one after another.
Thankfully, the film never feels exploitative. Director Bil Yoelin takes a measured and restrained approach, opening the film with an overview of the Kony story, documenting the history and the atrocities of The Lord's Resistance Army, but then we're in Uganda in real-time and it's just people's stories after that -- the activists, the teens and their words. The kids square to the camera and relate their personal experiences plainly. There's no style, no effects work, nothing to enhance their stories. It's the absolute right way to play this and the drama is more potent for it.
Everything builds to the final stage production, put on in a village in front of a large audience. The actors not only talk about their experiences in the war, but larger issues facing the Ugandan population, particularly the massive HIV/AIDs epidemic.
The DVD: standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby 2.0 Stereo, English subtitles, filmmaker biographies, and some DVD-ROM content.
After Kony: Staging Hope is a simple film. There are no huge twists, no narrative switchbacks, no pizzazz. It's people opening up, and that's enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated