SXSW 2011 Filmmaker Spotlight: Sara Terry


Film Title: Fambul Tok

Category: Documentary feature

Your name: Sara Terry

Your relationship to the film: Producer/Director

The elevator pitch: Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war come face to face for the first time in tradition-based ceremonies of truth-telling and forgiveness. As they revive their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level -- succeeding where the international community's post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals -- and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities. (Is that longer than 90 seconds?? :)) )

Festival experience: I'm very new to the festival scene -- I'm a first-time filmmaker... I've been to film festivals to see films, but this is the first time I'll be one of the filmmakers.  
As a submitting filmmaker, what has surprised you about the film festival process? I'm impressed by the programmers I've heard from, or gotten to know. They're really frank about the fact that curating a festival is a very subjective process -- and that just because your film didn't get in, doesn't mean it's not a good (or even a great) film. For the most part, they write incredibly thoughtful rejection letters (some filmmaker friends and I joke that the rejection letters we got from one festival were so detailed, in referencing the strengths of our films, that we could use the rejection letter for our press kits!). As for the festivals we've been accepted to -- I'm really blown away by the enthusiasm that everyone has for films, and the respect they have for filmmakers.

What attracted you to SXSW and what excites you most about having your film selected to play there? SXSW just has this amazing reputation for being a GREAT place to see films -- interesting work, the most appreciative audiences, edgy programming that's quirky but also committed. For me, being here with a social issue doc is particularly exciting -- we stand out a bit, but I think we're also a perfect fit with the rest of the programming. To be frank, I'm much happier to be making our world premiere at SXSW, with this film, than I would be at any other festival. I also love that SXSW was the world premiere site last year for "War Don Don,"a film about Sierra Leone. That film tells one side of the post-conflict judicial process in Sierra Leone, the western-backed Special Court, while our film tells the other side -- grass-roots traditions and values. So I feel like SXSW has created this two-year process of better understanding what justice looks like (or doesn't) in post-conflict countries in Africa. Also, festival director Janet Pierson and her staff have been incredibly helpful and kind.

When and where does your film play at SXSW?

Alamo Ritz, 1:15 pm March 14 -- world premiere

State Theater, noon, March 16

Alamo Lamar, 5 pm, March 17

What's next for you and your film? We head straight from SXSW to Sierra Leone, for the film's African premiere in the district where the war began in Sierra Leone -- and where the Fambul Tok program began 3 years ago, on March 22. Then on to more festivals, a book launch on April 7 (of my photos from the film, plus several essays), a community screening campaign in the fall, and the launch of our take-action campaign, "Forgive One Thing," which connects Western audiences with the film's message of forgiveness and apology in meaningful ways in their own lives.