When Denver-based documentary director Daniel Junge and producer Henry Ansbacher first contacted newly elected Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (who earned a masters in economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1970, among other degrees), they were told their documentary crew could have two weeks of access. Two weeks was nothing for a project like this, but Junge and Ansbacher principals of the Denver documentary film company Just Media saw their shot to tell the story of the first elected female head of state in Africa, and they took it.
Days before they were scheduled to leave, Junge discovered the Jonathan Stack film Liberia: An Uncivil War and contacted Stack to see if he'd be interested in helping out with the project. Stack agreed to come on board as co-producer of the film and put the filmmakers in touch with Liberian journalist Siatta Scott-Johnson, who would end up co-directing the film with Junge.
Junge and company turned two weeks of access into fifteen weeks of shooting during five trips to Liberia over the course of a year. With unprecedented access to the leader of a nation at a crossroads, they were able to pique the interests of the PBS series Independent Lens and producers at the BBC. The increased interest and financial backing enabled Just Media to produce a unique and compelling feature-length look at the birth of a tenuous democracy in a war-torn country. Truncated hour-long versions of Iron Ladies of Liberia will screen on Independent Lens in March and around the world soon as part of the Why Democracy? documentary series but you can see what Junge feels is the most complete version of the film at the Starz Denver Film Festival tonight at 7:15 p.m. at the Ricketson Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Junge and Ansbacher will be on hand for the screening.
While the story of the making of this film is compelling enough, it pales in comparison to the travails of President Johnson-Sirleaf as she deftly steers her country through the troubled waters of her first year in office. Facing economic crisis, corrupt political opposition and civil war soldiers rioting in the streets of the capital, her story is a profile in the democratic possibilities not just for Liberia, but for an entire continent rife with horrific conflict.
Sun., Nov. 18, 7:15 p.m., 2007