Interview: Arthur Rasco on the Ebola Documentary “Facing Darkness”

Posted on February 27, 2017 at 8:00 am

Arthur Rasco  directed the extraordinary documentary “Facing Darkness,” about the efforts of the humanitarian group Samaritan’s Purse and their fight against Ebola, one that became very personal when their own doctor and nurse, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, became infected. It was an honor to speak to Mr. Rasco about the film.

When did you start filming? It seems like you were there right from the beginning.

Samaritan’s Purse has been covering the Ebola epidemic since 2014. We have people on the ground in Liberia and some of those folks had cameras and were filming. The Deputy Country Director, Joni Byker, was filming, trying to get some clips and we were trying to get a video team off the ground to go but then late July happened and Dr. Kent Brantly was diagnosed with Ebola. And then so that changed things dramatically and then all of a sudden that threw all of us into a tailspin so it was all hands on deck to try and take care of Kent and Nancy Writebol. So we filmed bits and pieces along the way as we could, their arrivals at Emory, and then we did send our crews back in late October 2014. Once we re-engaged and sent supplies to the airlift with two 747s loaded with supplies, we sent a video crew. And then we were green lit to do the documentary in about April 2015, so that’s when we really begun in earnest putting together the film. The film will be in theaters on March 30, 2017.

How did you shape your production schedule and your approach as the story developed?

We had a great team that was involved in putting the film together. I’m just one piece among a great team of people here at Samaritan’s Purse and so we documented quite a bit of the stories of several people that had been involved. Some of the people like Bev and Kendell Kauffeldt and Dr. Lance Plyler we debriefed and recorded those interviews. So we had an idea of how we wanted to shape the story and then you go and you go there on the ground and then you also start meeting people like the nationals, the Liberians who had such amazing stories that we were able to work into the film.

We talked to people like Joseph Gbembo who lost 17 family members. We knew that he had lost quite a few and when we were interviewing him and then he says in the film, “When I look at the kids, the nieces and nephews, the children of those family members that passed away that gives me hope.” Okay, how many are we talking about? And then he says, “16.” And that moment was just so real and so we put that into the film just as it was because it was just such a dramatic earth shattering moment for all of us. We didn’t quite know that aspect of the story and so that was just amazing. Meeting people like Barbara Bono, who was a Liberian Ebola survivor and having her tell the story was just so powerful. Filming many interviews with everybody, I am crying and all of us are just in tears as we’re hearing the stories of what she went through and what she was afraid of during the time.

How do you maintain the distance that you need in order to make the film and yet to reach out to them as a human to get them to open up the way they do?

Well, I don’t know if I’m too good at keeping distance. I really enjoy and I want to engage with the folks, with people because their stories are just so amazing, they have been through some things that I am just trying to reflect, I’m just trying to share. I wasn’t able to be on the ground in 2014 when all of this happened and yet you know that these folks have been through something pretty earth shattering and so you want to respect that and you want to be able to let them tell their story openly and honestly. And so I laughed at when they laughed, I cried when they cried. I’m just trying to have them tell their story.

In America people went a little crazy on the subject of Ebola and didn’t listen to what the experts and the scientists had to say about the threat that it posed. How did that complicate things to bring back Kent to the US in the midst of all of that fear?

We as an organization as Samaritan Purse knew that we had to do everything, all that was possible to try and take care of Kent and Nancy. As you saw in the film it’s just a miraculous set of events that’s really unfolded. You almost can’t write this as a script. You just see God working in these ways. We took all the precautions that we could and Samaritan’s Purse put in place its own set of protocols to try and take care of our remaining staff. We were in touch with the CBC during this time, too. They gave us their instructions and we said, “Well, we’re going to step it up a notch because we want to keep our people safe and do the best that we can.”

What do you want people to learn from the film?

Our hope is that this is a story that will inspire young people, inspire a new generation of missionaries to set out in bold faith and go out to the mission field, to go out and serve, and serve in the name of Christ and putting their life on the line if that’s what they are called to because that’s where the need is. The need is out there and you can go out, you can make a difference. And that’s what the movie is about right? It’s letting compassion fuel a courage that will conquer fear and so that’s what we want to be able to do to encourage, to inspire a new generation of missionaries to head out there. I hope that people will feel challenged after watching this movie.

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Documentary Illness, Medicine, and Health Care Interview Spiritual films

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