God Loves Uganda
A powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow their interpretation of Biblical law.
God Loves Uganda explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda, where American missionaries have been credited with both creating schools and hospitals and promoting dangerous religious bigotry. The film follows evangelical leaders in America and Uganda along with politicians and missionaries as they attempt the radical task of eliminating “sexual sin” and converting Ugandans to fundamentalist Christianity.
As an American influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support, tension in Uganda mounts and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold. The film reveals the conflicting motives of faith and greed, ecstasy and egotism, among Ugandan ministers, American evangelical leaders and the foot soldiers of a theology that sees Uganda as a test case, ground zero in a battle not for millions, but billions of souls.
Through verite, interviews, and hidden camera footage - and with unprecedented access - God Loves Uganda takes viewers inside the evangelical movement in both the US and Uganda. It features Lou Engle, the creator of The Call which brings tens of thousands of believers together to pray against sexual sin. It provides a rare view of the most powerful evangelical minister in Uganda, who lives in a mansion where he’s served by a white-coated chef. It goes into a Ugandan church where a preacher whips a congregation into mass hysteria with anti-gay rhetoric. It records the culture clash between enthusiastic Midwestern missionaries and world weary Ugandans. It features a heartbreaking interview with gay activist David Kato shortly before he was murdered. It tells the moving story of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a minister excommunicated, ostracized and literally spat on for being tolerant and his remarkable campaign for peace and healing in Uganda. Shocking, horrifying, touching and enlightening, God Loves Uganda will make you question what you thought you knew about religion.
I grew up in the black church. My father was a religious leader in the community and my sister is a pastor. I went to church every Sunday and sang in the choir. But for all that the church gave me, for all that it represented belonging, love and community, it also shut its doors to me as a gay person. That experience left me with the lifelong desire to explore the power of religion to transform lives or destroy them. That desire took a new form when I visited Africa to make my film Music by Prudence. I was struck by how intensely religious and socially conservative Africans were. There was literally a church on every corner. People were praying in the fields. It was like the American evangelical Christianity I had known – but magnified by Africa’s intensity.
The more I learned about religion in Africa, the more intrigued I became. It was as if the continent was gripped with religious fervor. And the center of it was Uganda. I began to research; I took my first trip to Uganda. Uganda, I discovered is the number one destination for American missionaries. The American evangelical movement has been sending missionaries and money, proselytizing its people, and training its pastors for a generation; building schools, manning hospitals, even running programs for training political leaders. Its President and First Lady are evangelical Christians, as are most members of its Parliament and 85% of the population.
I began meeting in Uganda – and in America – some of the missionaries who have helped create Uganda’s evangelical movement. They were often large hearted. They were passionate and committed. Many of them were kids from America’s heartland. And they were, I began to discover, part of a larger Christian evangelical movement that believed that Biblical law should reign supreme – not just in people’s hearts – but in the halls of government. This movement, fueled by American money and idealism, had produced a noxious flower – Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which made death as one of the penalties for homosexuality.
Committed to the idea that God wanted all forms of “sexual immorality” eliminated from the earth,” it was the reason why Uganda had dismantled its successful AIDS program in favor of an abstinence policy.
I thought about following the activists-brave and admirable men and women-who were fighting against these policies. But I was more curious about the people who, in effect, wanted to kill me. (According to the provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, I could be put to death or imprisoned.) Notably, almost every evangelical I met – American or Ugandan – was polite, agreeable, even charming. Yet I knew that if the bill passed, there would be blood on the streets of Kampala.
What explains that contradiction? What explains the murderous rage and ecstatic transcendence? In the well-known trope about Africa, a white man journeys into the heart of darkness and finds the mystery of Africa and its unknowable otherness. I, a black man, made that journey and found – America.
Roger Ross Williams - Director / Producer
Roger Ross Williams directed and produced Music by Prudence, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for documentary short subject. He is the first African American to win an Oscar for directing and producing a film, either short or feature. Music By Prudence has had significant impact, garnering the attention of political leaders and disability right advocates worldwide. Williams began his career producing political satire for Comedy Central and Michael Moore’s Emmy Award-winning series, TV Nation. He went on to work as a broadcast journalist for ABC, NBC, MSNBC and CNN, ultimately producing and directing numerous primetime specials for PBS, ABC, CBS, Sundance Channel and New York Times Television. Williams has won many awards including a NAMIC Vision Award and the National Headliner for Best Human Interest Feature Documentary. Currently Williams has several projects in development, including a feature narrative film on the African American Baptist church titled Black Sheep.
Julie Goldman - Producer
Julie founded Motto Pictures in 2009. She specializes in producing and executive producing feature documentaries by creatively developing films, securing financing and building distribution strategies. Julie was nominated for the PGA Producer of the Year Award for Sergio, which was shortlisted for the Documentary Feature Academy Award, and was a consultant on the Academy Award winning The Cove and Matt Tyrnauer’s acclaimed Valentino The Last Emperor. Julie recently completed Buck, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the US Documentary Audience Award. Sundance Selects/IFC Films released Buck in June to critical and popular acclaim and it has since played on over 500 screens across the country and was one of the top 5 grossing documentaries of 2011.
Casper de Boer - Associate Producer
After studying drama at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands, Casper de Boer made his film debut as an actor in The Assault, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Within a few years he played leading roles in a number of Dutch movies, working with internationally renowned film directors like Theo van Gogh. Casper then moved behind the scenes, starting as assistant-director (To Play or To Die by Frank Krom), and building a career in casting children in movies, script writing, editing, and movie marketing and distribution. He worked as Director of Publicity at Cinemien. For most of the past 10 years, Casper has lived in the US, where he's currently working on his own two documentaries, Project NL, and Look How Beautiful. He was contributing editor to Kim Snyder's Independent Lens documentary Welcome to Shelbyville.
Carolyn Hepburn - Line Producer
Carolyn Hepburn has worked as a producer on a wide range of projects in film, video, and radio. She began her career as an associate producer working on documentaries for the United Nations, Poets House, The Cooper Union, and National Public Radio as well as corporate videos and meetings for companies such as Pepsi, J.P. Morgan Chase, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She then went on to work as a producer at Spark Productions where Carolyn produced experiential media (museums, retail spaces, trade shows, and entertainment destinations) for clients as diverse as 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Time Warner Center, Nissan, Canon, Pfizer, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, and Estée Lauder. Carolyn has also produced a number of award-winning short and feature-length independent films. She is currently working as a line producer for the documentaries Gideon’s Army, directed by Dawn Porter, and God Loves Uganda, directed by Roger Ross Williams. Carolyn is a member of New York Women in Film and Television and pursued a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies from the New School University.
Paige Ruane - Associate Producer
Paige is a filmmaker who has produced, directed, written and acted as DP following stories in East Africa and the U.S. relating to alternative medicines. She has a Masters in Psychology from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. After working in the field of fine art photography and related non-profits, she ran a private psychotherapy practice for adults in New York City and worked in the New York public school system as an art therapist with children. For the past five years she was president and founder of the Integrative Medicine Foundation, a New York based non-profit, which worked in East Africa to create sustainable communities through the research and development of ancient medicine, insuring intellectual property rights for practitioners. For this work she received a humanitarian award from Kenyon College.
Derek Wiesehahn - Director of Photography
Derek is a New York based director of photography with over 20 years of experience in film and television. Recent projects have included the 2010 Academy Award winning documentary short film Music By Prudence, and the 2011 Academy Award nominated documentary, Restrepo. Derek has shot over 100 music videos, as well as numerous commercials and promos for such clients as HBO, Showtime, McDonalds, Adidas, Fedex, Napa, Columbia Records, MTV, and Nickelodeon. His work has also won 5 New York Festivals Awards as well as BDA, Addy and headliner awards. Narrative credits also include several feature films, shorts, which have been well received at Sundance, the Tribeca Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Derek’s most recent film How to Survive a Plague premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Richard Hankin - Editor
Richard Hankin is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and editor, and the founder of Looking Glass Films, an independent production company. Hankin has worked on documentaries for both theatrical distribution and for HBO, PBS, NBC, ABC, and Showtime. Home Front, which Hankin directed, produced, wrote and edited, premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and on the Showtime Network on Veterans Day. Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun called the film “Terrific. A lucid knockout of a movie.” And Time Magazine named Home Front one of the Top Ten films of the year.
Capturing the Friedmans, which Hankin co-produced and edited, won numerous awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and an Emmy for Hankin’s editing. The film was nominated for both an Academy Award and an American Cinema Editor’s Award, and was recently honored by the International Documentary Association as one of the best documentaries of all time. Hankin has served as a Creative Advisor for the Sundance Institute Documentary Editing and Storytelling Lab, and as a judge for the WGA Documentary Screenplay Award. He has been invited to speak at numerous film festivals, universities and events, including Columbia University, U.C.L.A., The New School, Maryland Institute College of Art, Rubin Museum of Art, HBO’s Frame-by-Frame Documentary Film Series and the International Documentary Association’s DocuDay. He holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University.
Benjamin Gray - Editor
Benjamin Gray is a film editor based in New York. He received a B.A. in Religious Studies from Yale College, and an M.F.A. in Film from the Columbia University School of the Arts. His graduate thesis film, The Hunter, won awards at numerous festivals, and in 2008 was one of forty Academy Award qualifying films for Best Live Action Short. Documentary editing credits include the HBO Documentary Films series The Black List; About Face (HBO, 2012 Sundance Film Festival); and the forthcoming Inventing David Geffen (PBS/American Masters, 2012 Toronto International Film Festival). He also edited the narrative feature Francine (starring Melissa Leo, 2012 Berlin Film Festival, 2012 SXSW). Ben wrote the screenplay for The Wanderers, which goes into production in Berlin next summer, produced by Lars Knudsen and Jay van Hoy (Old Joy, Beginners, Keep The Lights On).
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UPDATE - February 19, 2013
God Loves Uganda premiered at Sundance in January 2013. We are currently touring the film festival circuit and have launched an ambitious two-year engagement campaign. God Loves Uganda will premiere on PBS in 2014.
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