Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pray The Devil Back To Hell

Pray The Devil Back To Hell - This is the inspiring story of a network of Liberian women, regular women from all walks of life, who became fed up. Fed up with the constant struggle for power and wealth between dictators and war lords that turned young boys into rapists and murderers and turned the country into hell. The women begin by establishing an interfaith group that prays for peace, then courageously establish a peace vigil outside the presidential palace. When Ghana sponsors peace talks between Liberia's warring factions, some of the women travel to Accra to demonstrate for peace and monitor the talks. The war lords enjoy the good life and talk in circles, until the women get their attention with a sit-in that traps them in the the negotiating room until they promise to get serious. After a peace agreement is signed the women stay organized, supporting disarmament, voter registration and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia's President.

The story is genuinely fascinating and inspiring, but the film is flawed. It's built around interviews with six of the women, and each is terrific, but something is missing: News stories that captured the concerns and the courage of the women that first stood up to the murderous dictator Charles Taylor by demanding peace outside his window; News stories of the sit -in by mothers and grandmothers at the peace talks in Ghana that trapped the macho warlords at the peace table. It's not director Gini Reticker's fault that the mainstream news coverage was limited mostly to atrocities. She uses what she can find and there is some archival footage, just not enough.

Pray The Devil Back To Hell is worth seeing just for the story, but wait for a video rental or PBS showing, don't spend $10 on a theater seat. There is a great movie in here somewhere, but this one spends a little too much time on talking heads. A full blown fictionalized epic with an exploration of Liberia's fascinating history could be a hit. A documentary that somehow captures the real tension of the story's highlights could do well, but this one needs at least a few more ingredients.

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