Writers, actor tell of Somalia/Bosnia trip

Hollywood has a new old story to tell.

The group of five writers and one actor who just returned last week from Africa and Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia, began telling the stories of their trip Wednesday–stories of death and devastation that civil war and starvation have wreaked.

The group included Richard Friedenberg, Jonathan Estrin, Writers Guild of America West prexy Del Reisman, Phil Alden Robinson, Stephanie Liss and actor Mike Farrell. Barbara Francis, a WGAW member who is the senior public information officer for the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, accompanied the troupe.

“I haven’t talked to anyone about this yet,” said Liss, “but now that I listen to others who went on this trip, I realize what an emotional experience it was.”

Liss, who wrote the TV movie “Runaway Father,” told a group of reporters about her discussion with one woman who was living in a refugee camp in Mombasa.

“Her name was Europe,” Liss said. “Her husband was politically opposed to the warlords, so they came and took him away in the middle of the night.

Imprisoned

“When she tried to fight them, they took her child away and put her in prison ,” Liss said. “She was pregnant, but she was raped repeatedly while in prison. When she got out, she found her child was dying of malaria and starvation.”

After the woman’s child died, she decided to return to prison in order to have the food and a cleaner environment in which to have her second child, Liss said, adding, “Again she was repeatedly raped.”

Liss’ horror story echoed tales told by the others in the group, who recounted watching starving women and children in Somalia grow weaker and weaker while local warlords continued to seize food shipments from abroad.

“These kids are not starving because of some cycle of nature,” said Phil Alden Robinson. “They’re starving because grown-ups are stealing their food.

Robinson, who traveled to both Somalia and Bosnia, said the parallels he drew from both regions had to do with “stupid wars.”

“These wars are almost unbelievably cruel because they target civilians,” he said. “These people are dying and the world community is allowing them to die. The most any warlord or warring factor could ask for is for the world to turn a blind eye. They require world indifference in order to continue.”

Thus it was not surprising that everyone in the group voiced support for a United Nations-sponsored multilateral military intervention to safeguard the shipments of food and humanitarian aid.

As for what this group from Hollywood can do to make a difference, everyone agreed that their main objective was to write about what they saw for film and TV projects.

“I think more people learned about the atrocities in Cambodia through ‘The Killing Fields’ than through all the journalistic accounts that came out of that region,” Estrin said (“Jewels,””Cagney & Lacey”).

Robinson, who took a video camera with him, is co-hosting two segments of ABC’s “Nightline” (last night and tonight) (Daily Variety, Dec. 2). Footage that he shot in both regions will be shown.

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