What does it mean when a bad man saves someone’s life?

Press photo for Jodie Martinson’s Stronghearted /NFB

It is difficult to fully articulate an idea in less than five minutes. It is such a skill that class projects are given in many Concordia courses with the exact intention of developing that ability. Precise thought, word choice and presentation are needed to correctly convey the speaker’s intention. While it is a rare feat to articulate a full-bodied idea in such a minimal amount of time, Vancouver filmmaker and journalist Jodie Martinson’s Stronghearted conveys two.

This short film, which is a splendid mix of both live-action and animation, tells part of the life of Evelyn Amony, specifically her first encounter with Joseph Kony when she was 12-years-old. Many will remember Kony as a popular Internet meme that spread across the web early last year. History will most likely remember him as the leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army and a kidnapper of children who essentially created his own cult where he viewed himself as a kind of divine prophet. This short film provides an opportunity to gain insight into who the man Kony is beyond the Internet and the media.

What the film presents about this man, and more importantly how it is presented, provides much of the mental fuel packed into Stronghearted’s message. Protagonist Amony narrates her first ordeal with the Lord’s Resistance Army with shocking honesty and realism. Her presence is the sole part of the film that is live-action, which helps bring home the fact that this is a real story that happened to a real person. The surreal drawing of Kony goes a long way to distance him from an actual human being. At first glance, he is more boogeyman than man. Yet this is not a story about how Kony raped Amony, or of how he beat her and forced her into servitude: this is the account of how he saved her life.

This is an odd subject for one of the most demonized human beings still living on the planet. That is what makes it such an important piece of filmmaking. It is easy to forget that people and not monsters are responsible for the atrocities of humanity’s history. Stronghearted in no means defends Kony, but it provides an instance where even an “evil” man does an act of “good.” These portrayals are needed to showcase the duality that many believe exists in the human soul.

Jodie Martinson could have made this film two hours — it is a credit to her directing skill that she was able to accomplish so much in so little time.

Stronghearted is available for viewing free online at


The view from up close

Documentaries are generally about reducing distances between the viewer and subject(s).
A well-made doc will be able to place a complete neophyte in the world of the film, and make them understand it.
Biographical documentaries—whether they be about one or many—operate in a similar way, but differ in that they don’t require an explanation of setting; the world is understood, but the subject is not. These films are inherently mirror-like: the narrowed distance between the viewer and subject motivates reflection in the viewer. The tricky part, however, is to make the subject easy to relate to without simplifying or objectifying them. This is doubly difficult when dealing with more marginal groups.
How Does It Feel, a National Film Board-backed documentary written and directed by Lawrence Jackman, opens bluntly. Kazumi Tsuruoka, who suffers from cerebral palsy, explains his feelings to the camera. The opening is the sole scene without subtitles, and CP makes his words all but indecipherable. With subtitles—or, I suspect, with listening practice—Tsuruoka is pointed and eloquent, something the film makes clear in its second scene.
This opening is an excellent bit of instructive contrast: any assumptions an audience may have about the lucidity of this man are teased out by the opening, before the film makes it clear that Tsuruoka’s limitations are purely physical. Tsuruoka isn’t well-spoken despite his condition; his physicality has little bearing on the quality of his thought.
Tsuruoka isn’t a documentary subject simply because of his condition. It’s his one-man show that makes him particularly noteworthy. In it, he sings a variety of jazz and blues standards, as well as some ballads, many of which are elevated to an entirely different level of meaningfulness by the realities of his life. Thus, “outside, I’m masquerading / Inside, my hope is fading / Just a clown / Oh yeah since you put me down / My smile is my make-up I wear,” is no longer just a breakup song, it’s a way to exercise a much deeper pain.
This type of art therapy is quickly gaining a strong reputation for the results it can yield, not just as an emotional output but as a confidence-building and prejudice-breaking experience.
It’s the kind of thing Concordia’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development offers, as documented in Ryan Mullins’ and Omar Majeed’s The Frog Princes.
In this self-narrated piece, we’re introduced to a production of The Frog and the Princess: A Musical Ecodrama acted out by adults with developmental delays, some physical, some mental. The play becomes an incredibly stressful experience for some of the players. While others find it easier, all seem to get a serious boost in confidence from the intimidating task of memorizing lines and being on stage.
At the same time, some of the actors have to face their pains and fears head-on. Rayman, who plays the Frog Prince, must endure a scene where the entire court of humans laughs mercilessly at him for being a frog. In the first run-through, what starts as fiction quickly begins to invoke a deeper, more visceral emotion in Rayman. His exit from stage seems too abrupt to be simply acting, but the emotion nevertheless stays largely on stage; it takes almost no time before Rayman’s posture returns to its nonchalant norm.
Both of these documentaries avoid any pitfalls with depiction of their subjects, and as a result, the characters we meet are neither over-sympathized nor over-simplified. There’s eloquence and limitation, poignancy and simplicity. In other words, there’s not much difference in these characters than in the ones that populate any other documentary; distance, here, is not a factor.

Catch a viewing of How Does It Feel and The Frog Princes on March 26 at 7 p.m. in H-110. For more information, visit

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