Dogwoof has shared with Variety the trailer of “Theatre of Violence,” nominated in main competition at CPH:DOX, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, one of Europe’s biggest documentary events.
Shot over the course of six years, it follows the trial of Dominic Ongwen, the first former Ugandan child soldier to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court.
Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group when he was just nine years old, Ongwen became himself a feared rebel commander. He was jailed for 25 years in 2021 on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including sexual slavery, torture, and rape.
Traveling between the ICC courtroom in The Hague and Uganda, in the footsteps of Ongwen’s defence lawyer, the charismatic Krispus Ayena, as he investigates the case and interviews witnesses, the film builds a nuanced portrait of a deeply complex story.
Directors Emil Langballe (“Beach Boy”, “Q’s Barbershop”) and Lukasz Konopa (“After,” “Vegas”) explained how they knew that Ayena, who himself lost family members to the LRA, could carry the film on his shoulders as soon as they met him.
“He’s this larger-than-life character and an amazing storyteller. He had a lot at stake taking on this case because, of course, it’s a very public and a very political case, but from a personal point of view, it was also difficult because he was defending someone who was part of the army that harmed his own people,” says Konopa.
An outspoken opponent of his country’s long-standing president, Yoweri Museveni, and a high-profile personality in Uganda, where he took part in peace talks between the government and the LRA, Ayena saw the trial as an opportunity to raise awareness in the West about the relics of colonialism in Uganda.
“As a lawyer, he strongly believes that everyone has a right to a defence,” explains Langballe. “But there’s also the political angle: He wants to use the trial as a platform to show this Western-based court how the conflict and political situation in Uganda is a result of the country being a former British protectorate, and the conflicts that arose between ethnic groups after the independence,” he adds.
One of more than 20.000 children abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony’s LRA, Ongwen was brainwashed by Kony, who used a combination of Christianity, witchcraft, and torture to turn the children into loyal soldiers in the rebellion against President Museveni.
“As his lawyer says: How can you separate a man from his past? That’s one of the main points we want to get across in the film,” says Langballe.
Through the prism of the trial of this former child soldier, the film raises universal questions about the lines between victim and perpetrator, the source of evil, retribution versus rehabilitation, and a fair justice system.
“Many people view the ICC as unfair,” says Langballe. “Some see it as part of a new form of colonialism, where Western states use it as an instrument to help decide who governs on the African continent. That’s not necessarily our opinion but it’s part of the views we feel it is important to include in the film.”
Dogwoof is handling international sales. “Theatre of Violence” is produced by Danish prodco Made in Copenhagen in co-production with Corso Film, with support from the Danish Film Institute, Film Fyn, DR, ZDF/Arte, Film und Mediestiftung NRW, Eurimage, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Danida, the E.U.’s Creative Europe Media Programme, RTS, SVT and Norway’s VGTV.
The film will have its world premiere at CPH:DOX on March 17. It is competing alongside a dozen other docs – all world premieres – for the top Dox:Award.
The festival runs in Copenhagen over March 15-26.