Outdoor film series begins today at Little Beach Park in Minturn
If you go …
What: “We Are The Ones”
Who: Producers Michael Skinner and Jon Michael Shink
When: Wednesday, doors open at 6 p.m. and film begins at 7 p.m.
Where: Little Beach Park in Minturn
How much: Free, with $10 suggested donation
Visit www.VailSymposium.org or call 970-476-0954 to reserve tickets
Aug. 26: “This Isn’t Funny,” an indie comedy
Sept. 2: “All The Time In the World,” a documentary
Glenn is a grizzled American surgeon. His proteges are Francis, who grew up with little schooling during the Sudanese civil war; and Ajak, a Lost Boy of Sudan. Through long running tribal divides and eruptions of violence, the trio of surgeons journey to protect their patients and bring peace to the people of the world’s newest country — South Sudan.
“We Are The Ones” is a documentary by Michael Skinner and Jon Michael Shink that tells the story of these three surgeons. From inside the operating rooms to intimate visits with victims of tribal violence, the documentary blends verite techniques with cinematic visuals to bring the audience a visceral front line account of the constant war between life and death in South Sudan.
The documentary is the first film in a series organized for the next three Wednesdays at the Little Beach Park in Minturn. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the screening will begin at 7 p.m. The film’s producers will be on hand to introduce and chat about the film. There will be beer sales by Crazy Mountain Brewing and attendees are encouraged to bring food, blankets, pillows and flashlight to make themselves comfortable. The film run time is 61 minutes. Parental guidance is recommended. In case of rain, the film screening will be moved to the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in Minturn.
Jon Michael Shink, co-director and producer of “We Are The Ones,” sat down to answer a few questions about the documentary covering the risks they faced filming in extremely volatile areas to the emotional toll of telling this story.
Vail Symposium: What drew you in to making this film, or how did you first hear about Glenn, Ajak and Francis?
Jon Michael Shink: Michael’s wife, Becky, was receiving an advanced degree from George Washington University. At the same ceremony, Glenn was adding another to his growing list. Michael (Skinner, co-director and producer) started talking to Glenn about his work around the world — specifically South Sudan. It was then that Glenn mentioned his work with Ajak and Francis. At that point, we thought we had a story worth exploring. Less than six months later, we were on a plane to South Sudan.
VS: What can you tell us about filming in the dangerous regions of South Sudan?
MS: There were a number of challenges — most were logistical — from powering our equipment to reducing our gear to the bare essentials. We needed to be light and flexible. We went into production blind. Other than our base camps in Werkok and Old Fangok, we really didn’t know where the story would take us.
The presence of guns and, unfortunately, tribal violence are a part of the fabric of South Sudan. Guns can be a status symbol — pure bravado. The longer you’re in the region the quicker those things fade to the background.
We approached this film in a slightly different way than a standard documentary. We didn’t film any on-camera interviews. Our goal was to shoot the documentary with the visual vocabulary of narrative film. That put a lot of pressure on us to capture each conversation, surgery and event in a way that can be recreated effectively and dramatically for the audience. We had no interviews to cut to if we broke continuity and no safety net.
VS: As a filmmaker it must be difficult to sit back and watch events unfold in the operating room. Take us through what you felt as filmmakers seeing this firsthand, and then going back to edit it into the story?
MS: The most emotionally daunting aspect of the trip was meeting so many wonderful, kind, generous South Sudanese who were subject to the violence on a daily basis. There’s one moment in the film where a young Dinka woman is brought to the clinic after being brutally stabbed and tortured for cattle information. She eventually passed away. The filmmaker side of you wants to capture what’s happening but there’s a human element that urges you to put down the camera. We kept filming. We were encouraged to keep filming by so many local folks. Staff and community members alike told us that these violent acts, while unfortunate, are a part of life in South Sudan and that it was our responsibility as filmmakers to share it with the wider world.
VS: Did anything surprise you while you were filming, or did the film change angles ever?
MS: The tribal violence changed the game tremendously. We initially tried to avoid the violent clashes for logistical purposes. We thought our film was a medical one but it turned out to be much more. As the violence got closer and closer to the clinics, the doctors started to respond. At that point, we knew it was an integral part of the story.
VS: Why should people come out to see this film tonight?
MS: After every screening, people tell us how the film defied their expectations. There are a number of troublesome factors in the region, but there are also good men and women working hard to change the course of their country. “We Are the Ones” highlights the work of these doctors and gives you a glimpse into the beautiful spirit of the people in South Sudan. It’s also an opportunity to experience rural South Sudan without leaving Vail.
For more information about the film series at Little Beach Park in Minturn and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.VailSymposium.org or call 970-476-0954.