Machine Gun director
Marc Forster finds inspiration in born-again ex-biker who moves to save the lives of Sudan's children
Marc Forster could spend his days on Rodeo Drive buying Bulgari watches and munching on watercress greens.
But the Swiss-born director of Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace and Finding Neverland says he's stopped buying stuff.
It's a small act but he says it's one of the many ways he changed in the wake of making his new film Machine Gun Preacher, which opens in Vancouver Oct. 14 after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on the true life story of Sam Childers, a former biker turned children's aid activist, Machine Gun Preacher shows one man selling everything he has to help orphans in Africa.
It's a journey that gets into the nitty-gritty of the personal versus the political and the implications of self-sacrifice. At the core of the film lies a moral dilemma: Can we ever justify murder in the name of a just cause?
Sam Childers picks up a gun to save the lives of Sudanese orphans. He kills the adults who kidnap young boys and turn them into child soldiers.
We can cheer for Childers's actions but they leave many people troubled. Forster says he's still wrestling with the implications: "I am still debating within me how I feel morally about how Sam goes about saving these kids. But at same time I feel inspired by what he achieves without any real financial means or an education," he says.
"He makes a real difference in these kids' lives and if we look at the end result, we have to recognize he achieves something no one else does. But the moral questions remain."
Forster says shooting on location in Uganda, near the Sudanese border, turned out to be one of the biggest lessons of all because Africa is such a fundamentally different place.
"People say India changes your life, and it probably does: There are so many people. But Africa has something fundamental – something in the root of the culture — that grabs you," he says.
"It shows you a part of yourself you can't escape from. It's really raw. I found it so fascinating. It's the cradle of humanity, it's where we all came from as a species, and you feel it."
Forster says until you actually sink your toes into the sands of the continent, you're not truly aware of the human condition. "Our whole lives are arranged by time. We live according to deadlines and we never feel we have enough time to do all the things we are supposed to. In Africa, there are no deadlines. You do not feel time in the same way there, and I found that the most interesting part of all."
Forster knows he's not the first person to feel the continental shift. "Did you know Tolkien wrote most of the Lord of the Rings there? It's a powerful place. It creeps up on you."
When he was shooting The Kite Runner in Afghanistan, he didn't feel the same pulse. "It's just a much darker place. Outside Kabul, and in the countryside, you always feel the lack of hope because they have been beaten down by 30 years of war. But in Africa, you always feel a sense of hope. Even people without limbs, people who have suffered great tragedy, find a way to move forward."
For a kid who grew up in the quiet solitude of the Swiss Alps, Forster says filmmaking has forced him to interact with parts of the world and different kinds of people he otherwise never would have encountered.
"I was very sheltered growing up in the mountains. I played outdoors and I never really had an urge to explore. But as I grew older, I started to travel with my parents and became more curious about other cultures."
Forster says the first thing he really learned was the shifting pull of each culture's moral compass. "There is no definitive version of right or wrong. These ideas change depending on where you are," he says.
"The most we can do is listen … with compassion," he says.
"At the end of the his movie, I asked myself if I was doing enough. And I had to come to the conclusion I am a storyteller. That is what I do. I can't change the situation in the Sudan by myself but I can maybe make people more aware of the situation and I can change myself."
Forster says the movie offers no easy answers about the nature of salvation. "Whether you like or dislike the movie, I hope it asks people to look inside and debate the issues. It's about education and inspiration, and movies like that are hard to get made in Hollywood and to find financing," he says.
Machine Gun Preacher needed the support of leading star Gerard Butler to hit the big screen but for Forster it was never a question of the money. He's looking beyond consumption, thanks in large part to his time in Africa.
"We all have so much in this culture. I try not to buy things just for the sake of buying things anymore. I have enough. I don't need another pair of shoes. I know it won't make me any happier, even if the central message is to consume. I think we all know we're running out of resources. It's obvious the oil era will end with our generation," he says.
"We can't fix the hole in the boat. It's too big. But we can make a new boat. It won't be as fancy as the one we're in now, but we can save ourselves before we sink, and I have to believe we will. Because the boat is sinking."