“Aid to the Church in Need made this dream possible,” producer Tobias Rosen confirms.
The film “Watu Wote: All of us” has been nominated for an Oscar in the category “Best Short Film (Live Action)”. The 22-minute film is based on a true story and tells what happened to passengers on a bus trip to Mandera, a small town at the border to Somalia in northeastern Kenya, in December 2015. The bus was attacked by members of the terrorist organisation al-Shabab. They tried to use the same methods that had worked for them one year before (in November 2014). At that time, Christian passengers were first separated from the Muslims and then killed. The massacre cost the lives of 28 people. This time, however, the Muslim passengers refused to comply with the demands of the attackers and identify the Christians among them. This saved the lives of the Christians.
In an interview with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), one of the sponsors of the film, producer Tobias Rosen explained that the idea for the screenplay came from a “short newspaper article, a marginal piece published next to the headline news.” Out of this, “screenwriter Julia Drache developed an incredible story that shows how solidarity between people and the actions of each individual can change the course of history.”
In many parts of this world and in particular Africa, violent and radical Islamist groups are trying to foment distrust between Muslims and Christians. Kenya still bears deep scars from the massacre carried out by the jihadist group al-Shabab at the Catholic Garissa University College, which resulted in the deaths of more than 150 students, or the attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. The short film portrays the climate of distrust and fear “that is such an integral part of their lives”; the main character is a young Christian woman who has already lost her husband and a child during a jihadist attack.
“Because the authenticity of the film was very important to us, we looked for a film team in Kenya. The team and the actors came from Kenya and Somalia, both Muslims and Christians. The Kenyans included representatives of all tribes. This was important because it is a topic that affects us all,” the 34-year-old German explained, thereby referring to the title of the short film (“All of us”).
“In fact, all of our African colleagues are plagued by this violence and its ramifications; for example, among the Muslims, some of them had lost family members, either because they were murdered or severely wounded in attacks, while others had relatives who had left home to join al-Shabab. This is a dilemma that is tearing society apart,” Rosen explained.
“Some of the most difficult moments came during the filming in the desert of Magadi, under the merciless sun, where there were neither tents, nor toilets or the like. Water was also in very short supply. I don’t think that there was one member of the team who didn’t think about throwing in the towel at some point. These were five endless days; it was very difficult,” the filmmaker remembered. But at the same time, “these were some of the most moving moments for me”, when “all at once, just as we were finished shooting, the Somalis on our film team began to dance. And were joined by the Kenyans a moment later. Then by us. I will never forget this scene of Christians and Muslims, Kenyans and Somalis, all dancing together under the burning sun.”
The core message of the film is that change can come about through suffering, but also through faith, by sticking together. The film, directed by Katja Benrath with cinematography by Felix Striegel, was produced in 2016 as a graduation project for the German film university Hamburg Media School and was sponsored by, among others, ACN. The aid organisation is known for its work for persecuted Christians, its defence of religious freedom and reconciliation. This is why Rosen, “who has long been aware of and followed the work of ACN”, contacted the foundation. “I was looking for a suitable partner for this topic, because I wanted to produce an impressive, but more than anything an authentic, film,” Rosen explained. “ACN did a great deal to support me and was a real blessing for this film. This project, during the course of which so much happened and during which we had to struggle against so many difficulties, would not have gotten far without its help.”
“Watu Wote – All of us” has already won more than 60 awards at film festivals, including the Gold Student Academy Award, which is a Student Oscar, and has been nominated for an Oscar, which will be awarded in Los Angeles on the night of March 4 to 5 during the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. Moreover, it won “Best African Film” at both the Zanzibar and Durban International Film Festivals. “This made me especially happy because it is a sign of recognition by the African continent of the authenticity we were trying to achieve. For us, this story is one that, in the universality and timeliness of its statement, can scarcely be more fitting for the times we live in,” Rosen said.
TRAILER ‘WATU WOTE – All of us’
Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.