Filmmaker's Journal ©2003, Tom Weidlinger
During the reconnaissance and filming of Heart of the Congo, filmmaker, Tom Weidlinger, kept a journal and wrote letters home about his experience of making the film. The following compilation of letters and journal entries covers the period from January to May, 2003.
January 24, 2003
I am looking for the subject of my next film. In a few days I am headed for the Congo, then Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, and finally Kosovo. I am not looking so much for a place... a geographical location, as for a situation, a story, a group of people who are willing to join with me in the process of making a film about who they are and what they do. Specifically I want to show something hopeful - the work of a humanitarian aid organization, how its field staff overcome social and cultural barriers to deliver effective aid that nurtures self-sufficiency rather than dependency. At the same time I want to come away with good television a compelling story, with a beginning, middle, and end - with conflict and protagonists.
I’ve been preparing for about three months. It has been a process of sorting the wheat from the chaff contacting international aid organizations and gradually working through the hierarchy of each until I get to talk to the people that really matter; the people in the field. It’s only then, on the phone to Colombo, Tashkent, Pristina, Kinshasa, Malawi, and Johannesburg that I get to see if there’s a film there, by which I really mean a potential for a relationship that could lead to a film.
The U.S. based press officers who are used to dealing with the likes of CNN and the Discovery Channel don’t quite know what to make of an independent filmmaker who wants to hang out for weeks on end, is in no rush to make a deadline, and who really wants to get to know people. It unnerves them. But they are also intrigued by the possibility of a film that really tells it like it is and makes them look good in the process.
My first stop on this scouting trip is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). I’m going there not because that place beckons to me, but because one person, Cathy Skoula, the mission head for Action Against Hunger in Kinshasa, seems to understand what I am trying to do. She is also willing to extend the logistical support and protection required for me to visit a remote field base in the bush.
Once the invitation is made I find I am anxious about going to what I vaguely perceive to be a malaria-infested and war-torn spot. Added to this my funder has asked me sign a waiver: In case I meet with an untimely end I won’t hold the foundation accountable. Not an unreasonable request, I think, but it gives one pause.
To read more, download the 44-page PDF file of the complete journal.