Tapestries of Hope Director Jailed for Telling the Harsh Truth

Tapestries director Risley, center, with child
Tapestries director Risley, center, with child

In the recent documentary Tapestries of Hope, filmmaker Michealene Cristini Risley says she was reluctant to put herself onscreen. "I did not want to be one of those filmmakers that inserts myself in my own movie," she says. But the director's personal experience on-location in Zimbabwe was so extreme, and her cause so worthwhile, that it became necessary to include her story.

Tapestries of Hope documents the efforts of child rights advocate and activist Betty Makoni, founder of the non-profit Girl Child Network Zimbabwe, to liberate young girls from a legacy of rape and assault. As a nation struggling with a virulent AIDS epidemic, Zimbabwean myth tells HIV-positive men that if a man rapes a virgin he will be cured of AIDS. Girls as young as one-day-old have been assaulted, and survivors have been left infected with the disease.

Both Risley and Makoni are child abuse survivors, and Risley says that she was inspired by Makoni's immense devotion to the children. "I knew that this woman would take a bullet for any child," says Risley. "She's my hero."

As a result of filming, Risley was interrogated, jailed, and deported from Zimbabwe. During her time in prison, Risley was deprived of food and water, urinated on, and forced to walk barefoot through human waste, causing her to contract parasites. Advised by the U.S. Embassy that her life was in danger if she did not make a speedy exit, Risley hired human rights lawyers to assist with her release and return to the states.

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Despite these overwhelming difficulties, Tapestries of Hope has gained tremendous support and recognition through the fundraising website IndieGoGo. By using this "crowdfunding" tool, Risley promoted the film to her social network and raised more than $20,000 in only a few weeks. "Throughout the process, IndieGoGo worked with us, helped us, and supported us," says Risley. "They've really been amazing."


Risley was jailed in Zimbabwe for filming her documentary.
Risley was jailed in Zimbabwe for filming her documentary.

IndieGoGo is currently the largest online film-funding platform. More than 7,000 people in 134 countries have launched similar fundraising campaigns on the website. According to Slava Rubin, IndieGoGo's CEO, Risley's project is a personal example of a perfect fundraising campaign. The key to a successful campaign, says Rubin, is in creating a good pitch for your project, setting realistic goals, and being consistent.

Some of the more popular projects on the website include New Left Media, a campaign in support of independent journalism that has raised over $16,000 to date, and The Bully Project, a look into the lives of bullied kids, whose donations are tax-deductible.

Tapestries of Hope debuts Tuesday, September 28, for one night only, in 100 theaters nationwide. Risley says that she hopes to eventually expand distribution to increase awareness. "I would really like to push Congress to realize that there are many people that care about this issue."

Volunteers will be available at the screening to answer questions and to offer audience members the opportunity to sign a petition urging Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA).

The film screens Tuesday, September 28, 7:30 p.m., Studio Movie Grill, City Centre, 805 Town & Country Ln.

Advance tickets are available online.

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