I spoke with Gini Reticker, director of the new film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. This is the extraordinary story of a small group of Liberian women who in the midst of a bloody civil war come together to fight violent warlords and the corrupt Charles Taylor regime. Click here to learn more about Pray the Devil Back to Hell and to view clips of the movie.
JB: How did you get started with this project?
GR: Abby Disney and I ran into each other after not seeing one another for years. She had recently been to Monrovia as part of her work promoting women in leadership globally. While there, she had gotten wind of this amazing story about these women who had played a key role in bringing peace to Liberia. She really wanted to make a documentary and talked to me about it. I agreed to go back with her and try to find out if the story was actually true.
JB: There’s some incredibly harrowing shots in the film of violence in the streets, how terrifying was it to be in the midst of this?
GR: All of the harrowing shots are archival footage that we got from camera people who were filming during the war. I wasn’t filming there during this period. Just looking through the hours and hours of material that we went through to make Pray the Devil Back to Hell was very disturbing. I had persistent nightmares that were very hard to shake.
JB: The women who organized the protests are incredibly inspiring to watch. Can you talk about how the experience of making this film has had an influence on you as a filmmaker/person since making this extraordinary film?
GR: When we went to Liberia to verify what Abby had heard, we asked as many of the women who could make it to come and tell us their stories. We were shooting on a small video cam. We were losing light, dusk was falling, but we kept shooting as one woman’s story spilled over into another’s. As we lost the last bit of light, they talked about how they had gained strength by singing together during the war. Then one began to hum and slowly, one by one, they joined in singing an old spiritual about the Walls of Jericho tumbling down. In that instant, something crystallized and I felt that everything I had done in my life mysteriously had led me to that moment. I felt an extraordinary sense of commitment and responsibility to bring their story to light.
JB: What’s your next project?
GR: During the course of making Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I realized that the way I viewed war—as armed men fighting other armed men—was a myth. In today’s world, 90 percent of war casualties are civilian, 75 percent of those women and children. At the same time, PBS’s Wide Angle Executive Producer Pamela Hogan had the idea to create a series on women and war. She asked Abby and I to co-produce it. There is a lot of enthusiasm for the project and we are already in development.