How One Man’s Film Brought Peace to a War Torn Region

Kenneth A. Carlson

Kenneth A. Carlson, a graduate of Brown University, specializes in writing, directing and producing theatrical fiction and non-fiction films. Carlson recently wrote, directed and produced Go Tigers! (2001), a feature-length documentary film on Ohio’s high school football team, the Massillon Tigers. Among other honors, Go Tigers! was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary. Previously, Carlson produced Amargosa (2000), which premiered at the 2000 Slamdance Film Festival. This feature-length documentary is about the life of eccentric ballet dancer/artist, Marta Becket and her opera house located in remote Death Valley Junction, California. The picture has garnered a multitude of “Best Documentary” and “Audience” awards on the film festival circuit. For his independent film company, Carlson Films, Inc., Carlson wrote, directed and produced the feature film, Special Delivery (1999), a romantic comedy starring Sean Young, Penny Marshall, Paul Dooley and Nell Carter. Carlson also produced the critically acclaimed and award-winning feature documentary film, Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995), based on the life and times of legendary studio director William A. Wellman. This film features such Hollywood luminaries as Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Hiller and Gregory Peck. It was awarded “Best Documentary” by the National Board of Review. Wild Bill was nominated for a Cable Ace Award. Between feature film projects Carlson devotes time and energy to television. He recently directed, produced and shot NBC’s prime time, reality-based program, _”Lost” (2001)_. This Conan O’Brien produced show aired weekly in the fall of 2002 generating strong ratings for the network. For more than four years, Carlson produced over 175 feature segments of America’s Most Wanted currently airing on The Fox Network. His credits run the gamut from producing, directing and writing film and video reenactments to on-camera reporting for the news department. Carlson has contributed to the capture of over forty-seven elusive criminals to date. Carlson has secured funding for several theatrical documentaries that are now in various stages of production and development including; Children Of The Underground Railroad, Third-World Orphans and Letters From Stalingrad. Carlson is represented by International Creative Management, Inc. and is managed by Nine Yards Entertainment. He’s also a proud member of the Directors Guild of America, the International Documentary Association and the Next Generation Council of the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
Bio source: IMBD.
Alan: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Ken: I graduated from Brown University in 1986 and I played football there. I got offered scholarships around the country to play and I decided to go Ivy League and got a great education so it kind of started me off on my path. I knew I always wanted to tell stories, I wasn’t quite sure how and film and television seemed like the best way to get my stories out so but I needed to pay some bills and needed to get my feet on the ground so I went to Washington DC and I worked for a company there a while and for about two years Ruben H. Donnelley and sold some advertising and then I rode my bicycle across the United States from Seattle to Atlantic City and wanted to really experience what the United States was all about and I sure did. When I got back I got into film and television and that was in Washington DC, I eventually got a job with America’s Most Wanted and that was about a seven year stint which was wonderful too to bring victims closure and bring perpetrators of crimes to justice that was really an important element of my growth and then they have crime in Los Angeles so I moved from Washington DC to Los Angeles and eventually got into making documentaries which I’m really passionate about, so I’ve made film and television but I primarily focus on social justice issues in this world of ours so that’s a quick way of saying, I’ve been out here now for 25 years and I’m also a professional photographer, I do a lot of commercial real estate so I have my hands in a lot of different pies if you will.
Alan: When you look at the industry today and that the film and television, how has that changed and what do you see for the future?
Ken: There’s a lot of consolidation and good stories still sell, there’s a lot more ways to get your story out but it’s harder I think to get a story told to get financing and there’s there tent pole pitchers now and then there’s low and there’s nothing in the middle. Things are going towards television, which is a serial television as we see a game of Thrones and whatnot. So there’s still great opportunity great growth but with the cons consolidation of the companies I think that they’re looking for a specific product and the reason why I make the films I make is because I don’t see it happening a lot in our industry, and this latest film I made, The Heart of Nuba, is really about a man that is making a difference in the world in a war-torn area of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan and so one man can make a huge difference. I made a film and it has made a huge difference in that part of the world and so I stick to product, I stick to films that I think can have an impact in our society and can make a difference.
Alan: America’s Most Wanted was one of the first shows where they called the audience to call of action if you’ve seen this person call X Y Z, the heart of Nuba also has a similar call to action except it’s more philanthropic.
Ken: That’s a good way to put it. I loved American’s most wanted because there was instant gratification. I literally could profile a criminal and on a Tuesday and on a Friday night we’d show him and on a Saturday we’d get leads and we perhaps have him in custody within a couple days. I say him because it was primarily males so that was a call to action, we prompted people to get involved and to give us tips and lead us to these perpetrators. The Heart of Nuba is something that I created to call people to action as well. It’s a story, it’s a piece of art, it’s a film primarily that’s first and foremost. But it also calls to action, it tugs in your heart and it makes you feel responsible for getting out and making a difference in the world. So they are different, they are similar in that way, I would agree, but what we’ve done with this film- it’s just it’s mind-blowing that we were able to make a film about a selfless and a courageous individual doing great things in the world which so much of that’s out there is negative- this guy is a true saint- I mean what he’s doing. And we were able to get the final product in front of the villain of the film, the antagonist Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, who’s responsible for the atrocities like Darfur we were able to get it in front of him, he saw it and within 48 hours he called for a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains. So we’ve experienced peace- temporary peace- for 20 months now. People are living outside of foxholes, so one of the takeaways I get from this if you really believe in something go out and do it because you can, your voice can be heard and you can make a difference in this world just like Dr. Tom Catena is doing in the Nuba Mountains, this film has done on a global scale.
Alan:How does a person go about watching The Heart of Nuba?
Ken: The Heart of Nuba, keep in mind it’s a documentary so the avenues aren’t as great but we did have a really big theatrical release, we were in over 50 theaters across the country, and we had great success there and we made a deal with Hulu, so you can see it on Hulu, you can see on Amazon you can see an iTunes you can see it on Xbox and PlayStation and Sony and it’s showing across the world but here in the United States Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes are the best way to see it.
Alan:If the audience wants to be involved with the philanthropic side, is there a venue that’s set up for that?
Ken:Yes, one of the things we wanted to make sure by making this film we wanted to raise funds for the mother of Mercy Hospital where Dr. Tom Catena is located and to take care of those people the only way to do it really is through funding and we were able to get this message out and you can go to www.TheHeartOfNuba.com and click on the donate button and you can you can donate, you can contribute to this cause, which we’ve raised over four hundred thousand dollars now and by the end of this year I know we’ll raise over a hundred thousand five hundred thousand we’ll raise another hundred and all of that goes to saving lives and my wife and I set up a 501c3 so everything that is given, one hundred percent goes to saving lives in the Nuba Mountains, which to me is one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life, knowing that people now are living outside of foxholes, people are actually living a normal life in the bush in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan that to me is godly I mean, I feel like there’s been an intervention. I had Dr. Tom Catena put in my pathway back in at Brown University, we played football together, we were teammates and we are classmates and we had each other’s backs then and 30-some years later it comes around and we have each other’s backs now in life. So it’s a wonderful story, but it’s all about Dr. Tom and what he’s doing for these people.
Edited for Concision and clarity