Maine moviemaking, altruism and family come together in Tim Ouillette’s new documentary “Struggle for Recovery: Women’s Stories from Northern Uganda.”
Screening for free at the Portland Public Library on March 29, the half-hour film is a gripping, inspiring and practical look at the continuing efforts of the impoverished Ugandan women still working to undo the personal and societal damage from a now 10-years-past war and the non-governmental organizations trying to find the most effective way to help them.
As part of his 2016 filmmaking mission, Ouillette took his 13-year-old daughter, Sadie, along, making “Struggle for Recovery” a family project as well. An assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University and founder of Portland-based production company Munjoy Hill Media (munjoyhillmedia.com), Ouillette will be in attendance at the Wednesday screening, along with Sadie. I spoke to him recently about his and daughter’s experience in Uganda, his hopes for the film and the effect it’s already had.
How did you end up making a film in Uganda?
I’ve been working with the Feinstein International Center who’ve been on the ground there for the past 20 years and have established relationships with a lot of the locals. I’d done smaller pieces on Uganda — I’ve been doing a lot of work with NGOs for humanitarian types of things. When they asked, “Hey, you want to put this film together?” I jumped at the chance.
How did your daughter end up assisting you?
It was my idea, initially. I wanted her to experience something other than the typical Disney vacation, wanted her to see the world. We’ve been some places, but nowhere as remote as this.
In interviewing these women, a lot of very heavy issues and experiences must have come up. How did she deal with that?
She did a great job. For one thing, she’s very mature for her age, and I think she handled it well. Of course, she didn’t understand all of what was being said, since people were speaking in Lango and Acholi, but sometimes it was in English. While she did a lot of the photography, and all of the sound for the film, she also talked with a lot of the kids there, who seemed really drawn to her. The people there have seen lots of white people, but not many small white people. We absolutely talk about going back all the time.
Apart from bringing attention to these women’s lives, what are your hopes for “Struggle for Recovery”?
The movie is specifically geared toward policy-makers, which is why I’m introducing the film at the screening. You sort of need to be front-loaded politically. We talked to 20 women about their struggles after the war. Generally, western countries provide aid immediately afterward and wash their hands of it, but there’s so much more that’s needed. Basically, the people who need the aid now aren’t getting it. NGOs need to rethink how they’re dispersing aid. It’s a system that needs some tweaking, and I’m happy to say that our film has already had an effect. The Minster of Foreign Aid in the U.K. pledged 2 million pounds publicly after seeing the film, which was an incredibly abstract feeling, to be honest with you. As far as I’m concerned, my job is done with this film.
That’s amazing. What message do you hope people take away from this film here in Portland?
That you don’t have to do very much, don’t have to donate that much to make a difference in these areas. If you want to help a homeless person here, you’re looking at thousands of dollars. But in Uganda, putting someone through four years of education will take about a thousand dollars, and that essentially puts multiple people through school. One person ups their livelihood, their earning potential, and that impacts that whole community. For a small guy like me, I’m a drop of water in the ocean, but I found that I was able to accomplish a lot more in another country.
“Struggle for Recovery: Women’s Stories form Northern Uganda” is a 30-minute documentary, screening for free at the Portland Public Library on March 29 at 6:30 p.m. The film will be introduced by director Tim Ouillette and his daughter, Sadie Johnson-Ouillette. And for Mainers looking to make a difference, Ouillette suggests donating to the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Program of Maine (ilapmaine.org).
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
NICKELODEON CINEMA (Portland)
Friday: “Ma vie de Courgette.” This French animated film follows a lonely little guy nicknamed Courgette (the film’s English title is “My Life as a Zucchini”) who learns about life and love when he’s sent to a strange orphanage. Nominated for the 2016 Best Animated Film Oscar.
RAILROAD SQUARE CINEMA (Waterville)
Friday: “Wilson.” In this adaptation of the graphic novel from Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World”), Woody Harrelson stars alongside the always great Laura Dern and Judy Greer as a complexly misanthropic jerk who discovers he has a teenage daughter he never knew about.