Affleck wants an African conflict film
Ben Affleck has been talking about a film he would really like to make, one about the ongoing conflict in the Congo, however he says that Hollywood just doesn't want it and that he's going to have to make it very American in order to see it get made.
Affleck has made two documentaries about the Congo already and he founded a group called the Eastern Congo Initiative which us to encourage economic and social development in the region to try and turn it around.
However trying to get a feature film made there is going to be a difficult task indeed, but not impossible. Two films spring to mind immediately, one is Blood Diamond which does bring through some of the aspects of Africa that seldom do in film, and the other that always sticks in my mind as an underrated film is Tears of the Sun (Filmstalker review).
The latter film mixes a total Hollywood style action-hero film with the whole Predator-type team of soldiers fighting a battle they really didn't sign up for. Here they are sent in to rescue the American and European members of a mission who are trying to save refugee children from being made into child soldiers.
The team arrive and soon they're hardened exteriors are melted by the horrors around them and they realise that they must save these children too, and so they risk their lives to escort them across the country to safety.
There are huge Hollywood moments in there, but for as much Hollywood there's a lot of reality in the way they behave as soldiers, and the horrors of the country around them. A lot is shown that you don't normally see on film, and it's brought through the guise of an action thriller.
Antoine Fuqua and the writers Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo do a great job with the story, and when you watch it on DVD there's a specific viewing option that gives you informational pop-ups throughout the film on everything from the equipment that the Americans have to the plight of the people in the country and how it's based on reality.
For me this film is a bit of a flagship on how to bring together Hollywood and something extremely educational and still make it entertaining without compromising too much the message that has to get out.
I wonder if this is the kind of route that Ben Affleck would have to take if he's making a film about the conflict in the region of Eastern Congo. Of course it compromises the real story, but at the same time something like Tears of the Sun brings out a lot more than you might give it credit for.
”I would love to make a movie about Congo, but unfortunately I’ve asked Hollywood folks and they always say nobody wants to see a movie about Africa. I think that points to this general sense that people sort of tune out, that it doesn’t matter. It’s also a function of trends and conventional wisdom: if it comes down to a movie with fighting robots or a movie on what’s happening in eastern Congo, you’re not going to win.”
Sad indeed, but very, very true. Mind you, if he can build a thriller with the strength of The Town and have it placed in the Congo – and I don't mean the story, just the pace, strength and impact of the characters and story – then he could get the film made.
As he talks more about the idea what comes through is that strength of Tears of the Sun, and makes me wonder if he already has the answer of how to make the film:
”There have been a lot of documentaries already, and fiction is more gripping. You can tell one person’s story and really control the extent to which the history and the politics are layered in, but you keep that central through-line of a protagonist that you’re really rooting for.”
He also says that there are no African film stars in the U.S. something I'm not entirely sure about, but if he wants some options, how about Djimon Hounsou or Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje? Pushing more towards Hollywood there are plenty of African-American actors who could play the roles, and they don't have to be top billing either: Lance Reddick, Isaiah Washington, Eamonn Walker, Chi McBride, Jimmy Jean-Louis.
I'm really not sure that's the problem unless Affleck really wanted to be completely authentic on the film, and if he did that couldn't involve a storyline like Tears of the Sun, which is the necessary compromise he needs to make to get it anywhere near Hollywood. It's something he does understand though as he says:
”So the lead has to be someone who’s American, and you have to figure out how to get an American person wedged into a story about Africa… [Leonardo DiCaprio] did it really well in Blood Diamonds, so it’s not impossible.”
Indeed, it isn't impossible, and I think a story like Tears of the Sun makes the crossover and accessibility of the story to Hollywood even easier.
However I wonder if this is the route he should be taking at all and if he should just take the production out of Hollywood all together. Why not bring the film to Britain or Europe? Why not do as Anthony Minghella, and so many others, did with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and bring it all to Africa? There the BBC, Weinsten Company and HBO were all involved in the production, it could be done.
Perhaps this is a publicity effort by him to get word of the film out there, and if it is then I'm right behind it and hopefully this will help just a little bit more.
There are plenty of options available to Ben Affleck, particularly if he steps outside the Hollywood studio system a little, and if he does I think they are sure to follow, he's a big enough name in front of and behind the camera.
Is it a film you would want to see, and how would you want to see it working?