When the war ends, a woman’s fight begins.
Interview with Director/Producer Sue Useem
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I actually never intended to make this film, but I guess this is what is so special about documentary filmmaking - we never know when a good story is going to arise. I never thought I’d make another film in Poso again after I finished “Which Way to the War” in 2009, which was about the history of the Poso conflict. I was just back visiting one of the women I knew from that film, Lian Gogali, who had recently been in a terrible motorbike accident and could no longer walk.
I was amazed to see that even though she was disabled, a single mother, and struggling with Tuberculosis, she was still trying to start a Women’s School for interfaith peace and justice on her porch with a small number of women. I thought alright, I will make a short film about her efforts. Little did I know what would happen to her, that we would end up on a journey to New York City and everything in between. I had to film for six years to show the enormous changes that Lian and her students would go through while they built the Women’s School. The iteration of what I witnessed is “The Peace Agency”.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This is an inspirational film of an incredible effort by one woman overcoming all the odds to bring education to the most isolated and marginalized women in a conflict zone. It’s meant to change the dialogue about women in conflict zones, who are often presented as agency-less victims, and rather present them as people who are able to determine their own fate and the course of the future of their communities. If you want a film to watch that will give you courage to fight for women's rights, for justice, and for peace, Lian Gogali and her students will give you the courage to achieve your dreams as well.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The arc story of Lian serves to make the community’s struggle for women’s rights and equality tangible by making it personal and intimate. The audience experiences this as a “fly on the wall” as they watch both Lian and her students struggle and transform themselves. They know that their struggle is an example to marginalized Muslim and Christian women all over the world that they themselves can create a better life, community, and democracy, even in the worst of places like Poso, where corruption, violence, and poverty are parts of daily life.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I felt like I made over 10 different films in the process of this one. I continually had to update the story as the school grew bigger and things continued to get more exciting. After two years of filming, when Lian won the Coexist Prize, I thought I would edit it quickly together and release it then. But I finally decided against it and decided to keep filming the women as they continued on their own journeys. And I’m quite glad I did, because by the end of the film years later, you can really see how winning the Coexist Prize really impacted so many people, not just the story of Lian.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I’ve received so much kind feedback and praise so far, and I’m very grateful for it. Lian came to one screening and even got a standing ovation. It was quite exciting for both of us. People have said how the film has really inspired them to think about their own communities or lives and different ways that they are now inspired to make a positive grassroots change. That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear!
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
One thing that surprised me how many people related with Lian’s story of feeling in debt to the women she interviewed during the conflict, and how she felt like she had to give back. I thought it was an individual experience for her, but many people expressed that they too feel a sense of debt to people they have interviewed and heard the stories of for their own research or filming. Another reaction I often get is from parents who empathize with Lian while she is trying to teach a class while her daughter Sophie runs amok during the process.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
While I have enjoyed being in film festivals, I am really hoping to get this film to corners of the world that do not have access, as well as to as many peace building and gender based NGOs possible.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I do hope to get an education distributor that can get this documentary into university libraries not only in the US, but around the world as well.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The goal here is first, to get this message out, as much as I can, that in this tiny area of Indonesia, there are women who are changing the dynamics of their community as well as their country, and that women everywhere are capable of doing this, no matter what their backgrounds are. Second, that interfaith and inter-communal dialogue is something that anyone can be having, and these women and their stories can serve as an inspiration for others who want to heal divisions between people where they live. And last, that leadership is very important for these grassroots movements to survive and thrive, and that more people like Lian Gogali should step forward to help others in need.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Ask yourself - how am I helping to spread peace and justice in my home?
Would you like to add anything else?
Thanks for making this website!
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am now working on developing a series of short films about entrepreneurship in Indonesia, as well as an short underwater documentary in Sulawesi. After such a long project, I’m looking forward to doing a number of small projects before diving in again for the next feature length documentary.
Interview: July 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
The Peace Agency
When the war ends, a woman’s fight begins.
Length: 91 Minutes
Director: Sue Useem
Producer: Sue Useem
Writer: Sue Useem, Ernest Hariyanto
Key cast: Lian Gogali
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Distributors
Social media handles:
Where can I see it in the next month? In August it will be screening at MICGénero Film Festival in Mexico City on August 4th and 8th, as well as at the Action on Film Festival in Las Vegas in mid August.