Several personal stories inspired the script I wrote for Ebola Choices, although I wish I could include all of them especially the one where Louis Roberts’s daughter Peculiar stood with her arms crossed blocking her front door from her fatigued father not allowing him to enter their home without washing his hands. He had spent the day instructing others to wash their hands, but it was small choices like the one Peculiar pointed out that created a combined effort to defeat Ebola in Liberia.
L.A.C.E.S. or Life and Change Experienced thru Sports is a non-government organisation that uses the power of sport to transform the lives of youth in Liberia and soon Sierra Leone. With the release of Ebola Choices a few weeks ago, I was able to sit down for a call with Louis Roberts and ask him about his experience being a part of Ebola Choices.
Lauren Anders Brown: Can you both please introduce yourselves?
James T. Moore Jr: My name is James T. Moore Jr. I am the National Director of L.A.C.E.S. Liberia. In the film I served as L.A.C.E.S. Representative at the Ebola Sector Meeting.
Louis Roberts: I am Louis Roberts, program manager of L.A.C.E.S. in Liberia and West Africa. My involvement in Ebola Choices reminded me of the work we did during the time of Ebola, primarily of raising awareness of the Ebola virus, prevention, and to train the staff to raise awareness as well. I was involved in purchasing the Personal Protection Equipment. We also had to drive to some areas that were crucial and dangerous to drive to.
LAB: What did you think of the project when it was first presented?
JM: When Lauren first presented the project I was amazed and knew that this was a perfect opportunity to bring to light the hard work and critical decision made by the Government, medical practitioners and NGOs.
LR: The project is amazing, it reminds us of the success we had over Ebola which was a very crucial situation in our country. At first, Ebola scared the entire nation and we thought we were going to die just in that short period of time. But when we were trained and learned the procedures to prevent Ebola we realised we were able to be the winners over Ebola. This film allows us to see our role and our involvement even though it was a very risky thing to do. But we knew that if we had sat back, it would have been more dangerous than being involved. It made me feel good for the opportunity to serve my nation.
LAB: During the filming, can you think of anything that surprised you?
JM: I was surprised at the way the stage was set that brought to reality the happenings during the fight against Ebola. It was so real that despite the vigorous sensitization carried out in the communities regarding the filming, some participants thought it was real.
LR: What really surprised me was the level of preparation. Usually when filming is done (for L.A.C.E.S.) we only need the camera, and there aren’t any other details. But in this film, everything had detail. I was impressed when I got to Dolos town and saw an ambulance. I’m like no, this thing is getting very serious! I saw the equipment and the clothes the doctors and cleaners wore. When I saw that yellow suit then I knew that this film was serious business, and something that was well prepared. Another surprise was how the director was able to be contemporary to our cultural setting; there were no (spoken) lines left out (of the Liberian English subtitles). When I watched the survivors speak and saw the subtitles, they were so accurate I thought a computer was writing them!
LAB: What was it like having a foreign director come in and make a film on Ebola in Liberia? And were there any cultural dynamics you noticed while filming? Be honest!
LR: Honestly, having a foreign director is an addition because every time we receive professional people it gives us an opportunity to do the job even better. Not that we don’t have professional people in our country, but experience matters when it comes to this kind of strategic film. The story was so clear that anyone who lived during the time of Ebola would be surprised to know that this was done by a foreign director. They would have thought this was done by a director who had been on the ground, seeing all of what had happened, and brought up these ideas. But to know that it was someone who was not a part of the Ebola response but had the idea and could pick up the story, was quite amazing! The fact that both of the choices could fit within the scenes is also great.
LAB: Thank you very much. Do you have a moment you are personally proud of in Ebola Choices?
LR: (Laughs) The moment when I was doing the training for the volunteers in the town hall building. That’s my moment. You know I love training, I love preparing people to do their job effectively. When I watched that particular part it brought me back 5 years ago when I gathered ever more than that number (of participants) and got them ready for the battle against Ebola, the success that came out of the training, and how we were able to win the battle against Ebola.
JM: Requesting for training of program staff to equip them with the skills to fight Ebola was a decision that I am personally proud of. Without this decision I believe many staff members would have been at risk.
LAB: From the L.A.C.E.S. perspective do you feel Ebola Choices is a fair representation of the Ebola crisis? And do you feel people can learn from the film?
JM: I think the film was a fair representation of the Ebola crisis. It was a choice to come together as one people, laying aside our personal differences and engagement with the communities and fight to eradicate Ebola from Liberia. For example, L.A.C.E.S. focus is social change through sport but the program had to lay aside their sporting engagements and chose to join the fight against Ebola. I learned a great lesson from this choice: together we can do anything.
LR: I feel people can learn from the film. The choices are well set up because it presents both sides of what choices you could make as a L.A.C.E.S. staff or a L.A.C.E.S. volunteer. And what the end would be with each of those roles played by the volunteers, the staff, show clearly what we were involved with. That was awesome.
LAB: Would you work with the director again?
JM: Lauren is a great team player. I witnessed how she made difficult scripts look easy. Some of the lines I thought could be challenging became doable once she took over her directorship. I will definitely work with her again.
LAB: What do you think of using interactive films for training for humanitarian crisis?
LR: It is good for people to see the choices they make in these situations, or what would be the outcomes and benefits of these choices. It keeps you at your edge (of your seat) to know what is at the end of it.
You know sometimes you watch a documentary and you just go through it and are not really a part of it or what is actually going on. But as you see those choices and you begin to click on them, you feel completely involved in the situation. Realistically, it is almost like you are in the video while the video is playing, and your choices become real. You are able to make decisions and ask yourself: “What are these choices that I am now making or I could be making- are they good? Are they bad? What would be the consequences afterwards?”
Lauren Anders Brown is the writer and director of Ebola Choices, an interactive film commissioned by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and made possible with efforts from L.A.C.E.S. and Accountability Lab. To watch Ebola Choices, visit www.ebolachoices.com