Three hundred twenty-three.
That’s the tally of names – 323 – in a database of folks related to our latest documentary film, “The Disturbances.” The film chronicles the role Christian missionaries and Nigerian pastors played saving lives amid tribal genocide in 1966 Nigeria.
While the list is long, what it represents is even longer: about two years of queries, travel, interviews, archival research, writing, meetings, scanning, editing, phone calls, e-mails, marketing, more travel.
This list is not a complaint. Far from it. It’s an indication of the necessary components – involving time and money, to say nothing of creative juices – for making a documentary film, which I consider satisfying and important work.
The earliest piece of documentation about my own journey with “The Disturbances” is a Nov. 11, 2014, e-mail from Robert Parham, the co-producer and founder of the Baptist Center for Ethics. It was his “draft executive summary,” dated the day before, about a “Nigerian genocide documentary.”
I responded to Robert an hour later, “I like this idea.”
But having or liking an idea for a documentary is one thing. Funding it, producing it, releasing it – those are altogether different. And costly.
Even though Robert’s proposed documentary was about a crisis he personally witnessed, it still boggles my mind to look back at this draft, more than two years later, and reflect on how little we knew and how much we tracked down. And that’s not to say we tracked down everything.
As is typically the case, we moved quickly to see if the idea had legs. We concluded that it did and made our first trip only a month later to Alabama to interview Southern Baptist missionaries Bill and Audrey Cowley.
We would visit and interview them again several weeks later after I embarrassingly experienced what experts like to call “corrupted files” or “catastrophic data loss.” I can think of several other names I called it, but it would not happen again.
Research continued with archival visits to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.
A February 2015 visit to the SIM International Archives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, had to be postponed after the South was slammed by snow and ice.
I rescheduled it for a few weeks later, and the wealth of material there was well worth the wait.
We also started bringing people to Nashville for on-camera interviews. First up: Godfrey Uzoigwe, retired history professor and Nigerian genocide expert.
After sharing some of our initial documentary research success with the Baptist Center for Ethics board, Robert and I flew to Denver.
There we interviewed several amazing Church of the Brethren and Sudan United Mission missionaries.
We also left the Rockies with several hundred more pieces of critical documentary evidence, including a notebook full of shorthand that would require several months of expert translation work.
Robert made some more fundraising trips, taking care to be in town when his only daughter got married. Then we were off to Missouri to interview several Assemblies of God missionaries and, again, acquire more of their documentation.
We went to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s annual gathering in Dallas to show folks a few minutes of early footage.
I then flew to Chicago where I visited two more denominational archives: the Church of the Brethren and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
A few weeks later, Robert and I were back in Dallas, but this time en route to Durban, South Africa – and that trip wasn’t even for the documentary! No, we were covering the Baptist World Alliance Congress.
Back in the states, we brought another missionary to Nashville for an interview, traveled to Kentucky for another, planned and carried through on a big trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for interviews with Christian Reformed Church personnel, went back to Alabama to attend a reunion of Baptist missionaries to Nigeria, brought two more folks to Nashville to interview.
And those are just some of the highlights of our first 12 months of production on “The Disturbances.”
More would follow in the coming months, including a reunion in Birmingham between the Cowleys and one of the Nigerian students they were able to rescue from the genocide.
It was a moment defined by an interim of 40-plus years, love, sacrifice, family, faith. And I was there for it. A blessing.
An early draft of the script, informed by some of what has been described above, is dated Jan. 27, 2016. It would get refined as one or two more interviews were in the books, as other information kept finding us.
I was meeting with composer Scott Hallgren by February, and he was developing themes marked by what I called “moral confusion and complexity” by March.
I spent late winter and early spring 2016 editing a rough cut, which we showed to a few folks in May. After that, we cut some, rearranged some, added some. Another rough-cut. More feedback. Nips and tucks.
We recorded the final narration with Harry Chapman at Warner Bros. Nashville in July and spent the month of August prepping the final cut for DVD duplication and design.
Finally, and on schedule, boxes of “The Disturbances” DVD shipped out of the manufacturing facility in New Jersey on Aug. 31, 2016.
Then the real work began: getting the documentary in front of an audience.
Digital tools have drastically reduced some production costs over the last 15 years, but they don’t replace the need to travel to produce a documentary like “The Disturbances.” The Internet just helps you figure out whom to contact and where to go; it doesn’t actually have what in fact exists.
I hope you will support our work and make a tax-deductible contribution here.
And I hope you will see “The Disturbances” and be as moved as I continue to be by the stories of courageous women, men and even children in a time of crisis.
We need your help because even as we continue to screen “The Disturbances” documentary, we are already at work on our next one.
Cliff Vaughn is media producer for EthicsDaily.com and co-producer/director of “The Disturbances.”