Thirty-two years ago, Robert Mugabe, the great “liberation hero,” became prime minister, then president, of Zimbabwe, the country once called the “bread basket of Africa.”
Mugabe’s decade long rule has brought the democratic process into question. In opposition to Mugabe’s rule has brought to the fore human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa.
Her story is being brought to life by local independent documentary film producer, Lorie Conway of Chestnut Street. In Conway’s film, “Fearless,” Mtetwa and the Rule of Law seeks to highlight the importance of the rule of law by focusing on her dramatic and dangerous efforts to defend the defenseless in Zimbabwe.
In spite of beatings by police, she has courageously represented in court those jailed by the Mugabe government—peace activists, journalists, opposition candidates, farmers that had their land confiscated, ordinary citizens that had the courage to speak up. Through interviews with Mtetwa and some of her defendants, the film tells the story of what happens when rulers place themselves above the law and why defense of the rule of law is a crucial step in the building of a civil society. Although Mtetwa’s arena is Zimbabwe, her message and bravery are universal. Mtetwa is the recipient of several international human rights prizes.
In January and June, Conway traveled as a tourist to film in Zimbabwe, since filming the documentary openly would have been considered against the
country’s strict media laws and could have resulted in her being arrested and jailed. While in Harare, she worked with colleague Hopewell Chin’Ono, a Zimbabwean filmmaker. They met through the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, where they both were fellows (although at different times).
Filming with three small HD cameras that she brought into the country, Conway spent several days interviewing central character Mtetwa and many of her defendants.
In addition, she traveled with Mtetwa to her “homestead,” a rural farm in Swaziland to meet and film with two of her “mothers” who helped raise her and some of her 50 brothers and sisters. During his life, Mtetwa’s father had six wives. Gaining a better understanding of her personal story informed what she does today – enforcing the law in Zimbabwe – a job she performs often at great risk.
In an interview, Mtetwa told Conway, “Somebody has to do it, why shouldn’t it be me?”
Because of Mtetwa’s efforts at litigating and thereby documenting some of Zimbabwe’s most horrific crimes, she said there is a record so “in the future, no one can say they didn’t know.”
Conway added, “We hope that the film will spark dialogue and change in Zimbabwe and throughout Africa, while also bringing the story of this inspiring woman to the attention of the rest of the world.”
Currently, the film is nearing completion. It has received financial support from the U.S. Institute for Peace, the International Bar Association, the Brit Doc Foundation and the Guardian’s Scott Trust Foundation.
As always with independent producers, outreach funding can be the final and difficult hurdle.
“We are almost there,” Conway said. “The only task remaining, for which we are seeking support, is to raise the final dollars for distribution so the film can be seen as widely as possible.”
The Filmmakers Collaborative in Waltham is the film’s fiscal sponsor and 501 C-3. Distribution and outreach efforts will include broadcasts in the U.S., UK and Africa, as well as screenings in sub- Saharan Africa schools and communities and educational programming via NGO’s and foundations with an interest in human rights and the rule of law.
“I believe in the power of films making a difference in our understanding of things,” Conway said. “I pursue projects that can make a difference.”
Conway’s last film (and companion book) project “Forgotten Ellis Island” told the lost story of the immigrant hospital on Ellis Island that served tens of thousands of immigrants who were too sick to enter America at the turn of the 20th century. Since it was released in 2009 and today, the film has been broadcast nationally many times on PBS, and a short version is shown in the Great Hall Museum on Ellis Island. The film and book are being used in the national fundraising campaign to raise funds to restore the former hospital buildings (22 of them) into the Ellis Island Institute on Immigration.
Conway is an independent producer and founder of Boston Film & Video.
Before pursuing independent documentary work, Conway was a producer at WGBH and, before that, a producer on WCVB-TV’s “Chronicle” for several years.