Documentary tells story of Liberian women who confronted nation's demons — and won
Gini Reticker's documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" recounts an episode from 2003, when a group of Liberian women — devastated by their country's lengthy and violent civil war — joined together, Christians and Muslims alike, to pray for peace.
Seattle Times movie critic
"Pray the Devil Back to Hell," a documentary directed by Gini Reticker. 72 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains graphic discussions of violence). Varsity.
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Gini Reticker's documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" tells of a time when, in the film's words, "ordinary women did the unimaginable." In 2003, a group of Liberian women — devastated by their country's lengthy and violent civil war — joined together, Christians and Muslims alike, to pray for peace. ("Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?" one asks the camera.)
As their numbers grew, they invaded government peace talks and demanded an end to violence, putting their own safety in peril. Their efforts ended only when the country exiled its corrupt leader and elected a new head of state: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman head of state in Africa.
Leymah Gbowee provides the primary voice for the group, interviewed for the film long after its events had concluded. (Reticker and her crew assembled the documentary years after the fact, interspersing interviews with film of the events obtained from Liberian sources.) She and the other women tell stories of the violence and rape that pervaded the country.
Their courage in facing their country's demons — then-President Charles Taylor was a man of such evil, we're told, he could "pray the devil out of hell" — is inspiring, as is the footage of the vast sea of women praying and demonstrating, wearing white for peace.
Why did they take such risks? "To secure the fate of our children," says one woman, "because one day they will ask, 'Mama, what was your role in the crisis?' "
The film is brief and not especially creative in its storytelling, but nonetheless unforgettable; this remarkable story deserved to be captured on film. Liberia, due in no small part to these women, is at peace, according to the film's endnotes, but the group remains watchful. "Liberians know that if things ever got bad again," says Gbowee confidently, "we would be back."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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