The greatest respect Gini Reticker’s Pray the Devil Back to Hell pays to its war-battered Liberian subjects is simply an unwillingness to embellish, in any way, their astounding story. Reticker’s documentary concerns the 2003 efforts of that country’s women to bridge boundaries of faith and brave threats of death (and worse) by banding together to end the brutal civil war between dictator Charles Taylor’s government and the rural rebel forces that sought his downfall. Reticker has at her disposal an amazing amount of footage from this chaotic period—such as a clip of the rebel leader privately proclaiming that he plans to issue an order for war in the capital of Monrovia—that, along with a swift structure that makes room only for relevant information, infuses her film with stirring precision. Interviews with the women at the forefront of this peace initiative convey the fear, defiance and determination that drove their movement, which was led by Leymah Gbowee, who got the idea to organize during a dream, and was strengthened by its ability to unite Christians and Muslims in common cause. The film lets its images—and the country’s mothers, daughters and wives—speak for themselves without any dawdling or dramatic trimmings, the concise momentum of its storytelling mirroring the frantic desperation felt by those who endured the bloody war. The sight of different faiths banding together to fight injustice has a stirring power that Reticker never gussies up, her portrait of female strength and solidarity, and of peace trumping violence, given both intimacy and immediacy by her sober aesthetic approach. Yet even more than Gbowee’s brave coordination of sit-ins during peace talks (which led to a U.N.-backed agreement), or her efforts to help forgive and re-assimilate into society the ex-child soldiers who perpetrated crimes against humanity, it’s finally the ever-present sense that “peace is a process” requiring persistent vigilance that gives this doc’s uplift its necessary measure of tough, sober pragmatism.
- Fork Films
- 72 min
- Gini Reticker
- Leymah Gbowee, Asatu Bah Kenneth, Vaiba Flomo, Janet Johnson-Bryant, Etweda Cooper, Etty Weah
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