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Congo Q&A with Margaret Young

February is Black History Month.  Margaret Young, who teaches writing at BYU, has been heavily involved in writing LDS black history.  She has helped write the play, I Am Jane, a story about early black Mormon Jane Manning James, and has produced 2 films about black Mormons.  Her first film came out in 2008 and was called Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.  It is an awesome film that I highly recommend.  I’ve already referenced it in several previous posts:

  1. Was the Priesthood Ban Inspired?
  2. Early Black Mormons
  3. Positive Black History

Margaret is completing a second film, Heart of Africa.  Here is a preview of the film.

I thought it would be interesting to have a Q&A for this new film.  Margaret will stop by to answer any questions you have, but here are a few of my questions that I had for her.

What is the focus of the film?  A former Congolese revolutionary and a teenager from Idaho: missionary companions.  Can they transcend their prejudices?

Why are you making this film in the Congo?

That was not the plan until I went to the DR-C last August.  We had planned on filming in Zambia because the Congo has such a reputation as a dangerous  place.  When I got there, however, I saw that it is only as dangerous as any other third world country.  If you know where to go and if you are with natives, you are quite protected.  We got all of the needed permissions to film, but didn’t have to show any paperwirk over several days.  We were instructed on what NOT to film (anything military or governmental), so we were cautious about when we brought out the camera.  More importantly, once we were in the Congo, I realized that there is no viable film industry there.  I knew several remarkable young Congolese men–I had written to them during their missions–and saw their yearning for their country to rise to its appropriate place.  It is possibly the wealthiest nation on earth in natural resources but because the distribution of wealth is strongly affected by political corruption, poverty is rampant.  I have been in communication with several filmmakers in the Congo who are eager for support.  We will use one of the Congolese production teams.  If you look up film in the Congo, you will find Viva Riva by Djo Munga, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find the short film Mbopte by Tsopher Kabambi.  Otherwise, you will find short documentaries.  That’s the extent of it.  To train our Congolese interns so that the Congo can tell its own stories rather than letting others continue to depict it as a savage place with man-eating gorillas has become a hugely important task for me.

I understand you are starting a KickStarter campaign.  What will the money be for?
We are aiming for a minimum of $50,000, which will get us to Africa and fund preliminary filming of the entire movie.  We hope to exceed the goal so that we can move into everything that comes after filming–editing, music, sound mastering, color correction, etc.Is this part of a non-profit organization?
We were among the 2% of films accepted for IFP fiscal sponsorship, which gives us 501c3 status.  Money we raised through successful grant proposals funded our 2015 trip to the Congo.  IFP allows only one crowd-sourced fundraising organization: Kickstarter.  So we are doing everything we can to spread the word about this great endeavor.  What we’re doing is potentially world-changing, and we want to involve as many people as we can.  We anticipate that we will get a few more grants for this film, but we would love to see a good portion of it funded by regular folks who simply get together and contribute what they can.
How did you get involved in film-making?

By accident.  Deseret Book had filmed a commercial for the books Darius Gray and I wrote together.  The film was never completed.  So, I was given the footage and cobbled it together into a documentary called Jane James: Your Sister in the Gospel.  Later, Darius and I made Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which was a fair hit.  We sold DVDs around the world and won a big award on the Documentary Channel.  After those documentaries and one other, I started thinking about the stories I had been given from a large group of missionaries to whom I had written.  From their true stories, I developed the script for a feature film: Heart of Africa.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to make documentaries?
Well, this film is a feature, not a documentary, but my advice would be the same: Don’t give up.  If you’re on a good path, working with good people and with a good idea, keep working.  That doesn’t mean that you won’t trash a lot of footage or scrap pages from the intended narration.  Part of making a film is knowing when to say, “That’s the scene.  Even though I’ve got some great footage for this segment, it needs to stay on the editing floor.” Take a day to think about it, but kill your darlings if you finally see that they are a distraction.  Edit brutally, and take criticism seriously–even if you reject it.  Learn to get along with others.  If you can’t control your angry impulses, you will build a spirit of contention, which is inconsistent with true creativity.  Respect your work and your associates.  Have fun. Set your standards of professionalism high and don’t give up on them.
For those of you interested in donating, here is a link to Margaret’s Kickstarter campaign.  What questions do you have for Margaret?
I’ll start off with a few questions
  1. Margaret, I see you are in the preview.  Is this your acting debut as well?  (I believe that is your husband as well, right?)
  2. Is that Danor Gerald as well?  (Danor has acted in LDS films, Saints and Soldiers:  The Void, Forever Strong, and Believe, as well.)
  3. Is Darius Gray involved in this new film?
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