Machine Gun Preacher inspiration Sam Childers and screenwriter Jason Keller

Posted: September 22, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan


by Tasha Robinson September 21, 2011

In his autobiographical book, Another Man’s War: The True Story Of One Man’s Battle To Save Children In The Sudan, Sam Childers describes how he climbed out of a self-serving life of violence, alcoholism, and drug addiction to become a preacher, a church founder, and an advocate for victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in the Sudan. He also describes in brief the many floundering years of attempts to adapt his life into other media, as a documentary, a reality show, or a feature film. The final result, Machine Gun Preacher, stars 300’s Gerard Butler as Childers (The A.V. Club interviewed Butler about the film separately) and was helmed by Monster’s Ball and Quantum Of Solace director Marc Forster. Like the book, the film version follows Childers/Butler from his drug-addicted years through his religious conversion, his founding of an orphanage in Sudan, and his leading local militia members on hunting raids against the LRA, which itself raided local villages in the Sudan, mutilating villagers and stealing children to raise as soldiers and sex slaves. The A.V. Club recently sat down with Childers and Machine Gun Preacher screenwriter Jason Keller to talk about what’s happened in the Sudan since the time period depicted in the film, the compromises inherent in based-on-a-true-story cinema, and the hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony.

The A.V. Club: Your book was written in 2009, and the film doesn’t cover all of it. What’s happened in the intervening two years?

Sam Childers: There hasn’t been anyone killed around the orphanage in over two years. Things are not near what they used to be in that whole area. Jason keeps up on all the news on South Sudan and what’s going on with Kony, and he’ll say, “Since the first of the year, Kony still abducted 1,000 children out of South Sudan along the border, and he’s killed over 200 people along the border of South Sudan and Congo.” So is there still a problem there? Absolutely. But in the direct area that I’m at, there isn’t no problem. But we’ve went in to other areas—I went up into the Darfur area. I’m actually in Ethiopia now. I’m getting ready to do some work in Somalia. We are doing a lot more in the U.S. than we used to. We’ve always done work here, but now we’re getting into a lot of the sex trafficking. We have more people coming on with our organization that is stepping out and saying, “Sam, I want to do this in sex trafficking, I want to do this.” A lot of that, we keep quiet because—our thing is about rescuing children out of it. A lot of organizations want to buy children out of it. I’m not gonna buy no one. I want to just bring them out of it.

AVC: When you say “we,” do you mean your Angels organization?

SC: Yeah, Angels In East Africa. We have more and more partners that have come on, not just as supporters, but have come on to be part of Angels In East Africa.

AVC: What are the long-term goals for the group at this point, now that you aren’t just reacting to raids in your immediate area?

SC: The orphanage in South Sudan, we’re going to keep working on it. We’ve got two bases in Uganda, one in Northern Uganda, one in the capital. We just started one project in Ethiopia. Right now, we have four projects going on with children. Along here in the States, I’ve got a campground in Pennsylvania we use for troubled youth. That work’s going to keep on expanding. They’re getting ready to start having me speak on drugs and alcohol. I’ve been doing that in high schools, but now they’re having me do some stuff in colleges. I believe that our work is expanding to rescue children around the world, because if we can save one child from doing drugs, that means we can save a child from having an overdose. We have a very serious drug problem here in the U.S. We even have a very serious sex-trafficking problem here in the U.S.

AVC: So… when does the sequel film come out?

SC: [Laughs.]

Jason Keller: I don’t know about that.

SC: He’s waiting until I get shot.

JK: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’d be a good ending.

SC: Yeah, you’ve gotta have the ending.

JK: Sam is talking about all the stuff he’s doing around the world for children and sex trafficking in the United States, but I think it’s also important to remember that although South Sudan is now an independent state, the trouble in Sudan continues, and there are mass atrocities happening every day. Today. The Islamist dictatorship in Khartoum is perpetrating war crimes on a daily basis.

SC: Absolutely.

JK: I think although the media has made a big deal out of—and rightly so—that South Sudan is now a free state, we can’t forget that there’s a dictator living in Khartoum, the only sitting president in history to be indicted for genocide. We can’t forget that that part of the country, Central Africa, is a tinderbox, and at any moment, another civil war could break out, or a war between North and South, or genocide, as happened in Darfur. We have to be vigilant. I hope that this movie in some way tells people to be vigilant, and shows people you’ve got to stay involved.

AVC: Have you guys seen any particular effect out of the Obama administration’s declared hunt for Joseph Kony?

SC: He signed a bill to help to hunt him down, but you’ve got to remember, there’s been warrants for Kony’s arrest for many, many years. It’s kind of like us hunting for bin Laden. Our military is one of the greatest militaries in the world, and we have technology that we can read your newspaper from a satellite when you’re in your back yard, and we couldn’t find bin Laden—it took us 10 years. I believe it’s still going to be a while, but as I tell people, “As long as one child is being killed, there’s still a problem is South Sudan, Congo, and Darfur.” There’s still a problem.

AVC: Getting to the film itself, it must be odd to watch a film that’s meant to sum up your entire life in 90 minutes.

SC: The hardest thing for me is watching the first part, where it shows who I used to be, because it was so real. Jason done an unbelievable job in the whole entire movie. He’s said the scenes of Sudan and the fighting was amped up for Hollywood. But the first part, there was nothing amped up. To be honest with you, he left a lot out. My life was a very violent, drug-using life, and it bothers me to see it on the screen. Every time I’ve watched it, it’s made me cry.

JK: We didn’t go as far [as reality did] in terms of violence in that first part, and we had to pull back on the violence in Sudan.

SC: Yeah, showing the children, you know? Showing lips cut off, people skinned alive. Breasts cut off, ears cut off. They showed a couple scenes, but not really what goes on there. You wanna know something? Could America really handle the truth?

AVC: If viewers can’t handle what’s actually going on in Sudan, is that really your problem, or the film’s problem? Why protect people’s sensibilities by downplaying the issue?

JK: But in a way, there’s a balance there, because you want to introduce people to this problem. Unfortunately, we in the United States, we don’t know what’s going on in Africa, and certainly Central Africa. I hope that this movie introduces people who only know of Sudan as “Oh there’s a war over there, child soldiers, I kind of know what that is.” You have to introduce them to this problem, and hope you get them to do their own research. Were we to tell the Sudan side of the story as graphically as I found when I went there, or what Sam has seen in the last 15-plus years of his life, we couldn’t show this movie. It would frankly be an X-rating.

SC: Sometimes, America, when something’s too bad, we don’t want to look at it. We want to turn our head.

AVC: You say that the violence is jacked up to meet Hollywood standards. What’s it like, as somebody who’s actually been involved in firefights, to watch what a firefight looks like by Hollywood standards?

SC: I believe that any soldier that was out there, and even down to police officers, can relate to a lot of the firefights. I’ve been in several gunfights here in the U.S. because of the lifestyle that I led. I believe that there’s enough in it—from what I hear and from what I’ve seen, everything that’s in the movie is all based off of the truth. There’s only a few things that was really amped up, but it’s not amped up that much.

JK: Yeah, I just want to clarify, too. Those action sequences are certainly amped up, and there’s a reason we had to do that, but if you talked to many of the soldiers that I spoke to while I was in Sudan, and Sam worked with the last 15 years, you talk to any of those guys, you show them any of the sequences in the movie, they would say, “It’s that, and it gets worse.” These guys have been through a war, the intensity of which we can’t really imagine in the United States. [To
Sam.] You show Deng [a soldier depicted in the film] those sequences, he’d say, “We didn’t amp anything up. What are you talking about?”

SC: Even last night [at a local screening], there was people there from Sudan who stood up after and said, “We’re happy to see that there’s a movie out now to show the world what we truly went through.”

AVC: How do you deal with going from a situation like that to coming back here to have your morality and motives questioned by the media and other religious groups and aid groups?

SC: You know, America can be just like a war zone itself. I don’t know how much you get involved with young people, but young people are going through something that we don’t even realize nowadays. I spoke in a school here not long ago, and I asked all the teachers, “Will you all please stand up, all the teachers of the school stand up and turn around and look at the back wall.” Some of the kids were as young as 8 years old inside this auditorium. And I went, “I want everyone here that has ever done drugs or been offered drugs to raise your hand.” Almost every 8-year-old raised their hand. If you don’t think that that’s a war, then there’s something wrong with us. It’s still a war. I just look at things a little bit different. When I see a serious problem, I try to figure out, my way, how to solve it, how to fix it. When I’m back here in the U.S., I’m speaking, raising funds, and everything for what I do overseas, but at the same time, I speak in schools, colleges, on drugs and alcohol. I come back here and I go into a different fight. But really, it’s all related.

AVC: You talk about trying to figure out what the solution is. Do you think killing Joseph Kony will fix things in the Sudan?

SC: No. A lot of people—I don’t know where reporters get it. One reporter said that I made a comment that I’d killed over 10 LRA men in a day. I have never said to anybody that I’ve ever killed anyone.

http://www.avclub.com/articles/machine-gun-preacher-inspiration-sam-childers-and,62081/

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