You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Mission Congo’

Lara Zizic and David Turner's engrossing documentary lays out the case against Southern Baptist pastor Pat Robertson.


Samantha Bolton, Jannes van der Wilk, Chris McGreal, Bill Sizemore, Richard Walton, Ole Anthony, Lindsay Hilsum, Sid Slackman, Craig MacFarland, Bob Hinkle, Jesse Pots. (English, French dialogue)

While perhaps best-known now for his bottomless wellspring of wackjob theories — most recently alleging that San Francisco gays deliberately spread AIDS via sharpened, blood-bearing finger rings — Southern Baptist pastor Pat Robertson has long been a U.S. evangelical kingpin, his savvy use of popular media having played a huge role in the politicization of the Christian right in recent decades. So his lack of accountability for the deeds alleged in Lara Zizic and David Turner’s engrossing “Mission Congo” is all the more appalling. An impressive array of witnesses lend ballast to claims that Robertson’s Operation Blessing — which raised millions in tax-free donations to purportedly help Rwandan genocide refugees — was simply a front for covert diamond mining. Docu is sure to stir controversy as well as tube and possible theatrical sales.

Abrupt “ethnic cleaning” of the Tutsis by the Hutus in early 1994 killed as many as one million Rwandans. Another 800,000 fled over the border to Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo), where those not already wounded or ill fell prey to starvation, dehydration and cholera. (Many of their assailants soon followed, bringing rape and other forms of violence to the chaotic scene.) The international community struggled to import sufficient help and supplies for this massive crisis.

Robertson & Co. soon jumped on the bandwagon, imploring viewers of his own Christian Broadcasting Network to send donations so that Operation Blessing could airlift in badly needed doctors, medicines, food, etc. But as volunteers and staff for other relief organizations already there recall, OB barely made its presence felt in the enormous refugee camps, and when spotted, its personnel often seemed more interested in proselytizing than in providing medical or material aid. Nonetheless, the network ran hours of footage purporting to show its good works in Zaire, some passing off workers from other humanitarian orgs (like Doctors With Borders) as its own, others simply serving as photo ops for the flown-in Robertson himself.

Operation Blessing created its own airstrip near the refugee crisis center. But many, including one of the cargo planes’ own pilots, say those vehicles seldom carried the physicians and relief supplies CBN donors thought they were funding. Instead, the aircraft simply refueled before traveling on to the opposite, Western side of the country, there delivering  equipment to mine diamonds under a deal between Zaire’s corrupt then-president and Robertson’s for-profit African Development Co. (When this contract finally ran out, the docu alleges, Robertson negotiated a new one with the government of Liberia, another notorious African human-rights abuser.) Locals say that community improvements they were promised by the Western visitors never materialized.

Reporter Bill Sizemore of the the Virginian-Pilot in the evangelical entrepreneur’s home state caught wind of all this and published expose articles (Robertson in turn allegedly attempted to have him fired). A subsequent official state investigation purportedly found ample evidence of fraud — yet no prosecution ensued, as the then-governor and attorney general blocked it. (Both were significant allies/campaign-donation beneficiaries of guess-who.)

Even now, the pic says, Operation Blessing continues to solicit donations for purported humanitarian efforts that include operation of Congo hospitals and schools never actually built, and a failed agricultural project started and abandoned in 1994.

In addition to plentiful archival footage, the film includes recent testimony from individuals who once worked or are still working with the U.N.; legit humanitarian-relief and religious watchdog organizations; erstwhile Zairean officials and residents; and several who now regret their association with this questionable Christian “mission.” One person not heard from here (except in myriad Christian Broadcasting Network excerpts, invariably asking viewers for money) is Robertson himself, who refused to be interviewed by the filmmakers, though in wake of the docu’s Toronto premiere, he’s already threatened legal action against them.

The point is made that the U.S. badly needs to improve its legal oversight of charities, particularly religious ones, to ensure claims of humanitarian aid are verifiable. If even a fraction of the accusations in “Mission Congo” are true, Robertson is a very lucky man to have spent the last two decades at liberty.

Blown up for the bigscreen, the older video footage is of variable quality. Assembly is straightforward.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Mission Congo'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 6, 2013. Running time: 68 MIN.


(Documentary) A C-Colony production. (International sales: Cinephil, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Eric Heidenreich, David Turner, Lara Zizic.


Directed, written by Lara Zizic, David Turner. Camera (color, HD), Turner, Zizic; editors, Michael Saia, Troy Mercury; music, Murray Gold; sound, Chen Harpaz.


Samantha Bolton, Jannes van der Wilk, Chris McGreal, Bill Sizemore, Richard Walton, Ole Anthony, Lindsay Hilsum, Sid Slackman, Craig MacFarland, Bob Hinkle, Jesse Pots. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos

    Korea: 'The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos’ Rules Chuseok Holiday Box Office

    Local films dominated cinemagoing in South Korea over the 4-day Chuseok holiday weekend, traditionally one of the year’s busiest periods. The winner was “The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos.” Opening on Wednesday, the CJ Entertainment release earned $20.2 million from 1.97 million admissions over five days. A film adaptation of CJ E&M’s 2014 hit TV [...]

  • Disco

    New Europe Sells Toronto and San Sebastian Film 'Disco' to Several Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jan Naszewski’s New Europe Film Sales has signed several distribution deals on “Disco,” which had its world premiere in Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery section and makes its European premiere in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition. The film has been picked up by Palace for Australia and New Zealand, Artcam for Czech Republic and Slovakia, Kino [...]

  • "Jade Dynasty" in front at the

    China Box Office: 'Jade Dynasty' in Front Ahead of Mixed Competition

    With “Jade Dynasty” out front, Chinese action and Asian animation films led the way at the China box office over the past weekend, while the few American titles in play have failed to attract many moviegoers. Chinese action fantasy “Jade Dynasty” led the weekend box office in its debut with $38.1 million, figures from consultancy [...]

  • The Painted Bird

    Venice Competition Film 'The Painted Bird' Is Czech Entry in Oscar Race

    Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the main competition and also played at the Toronto Film Festival in Special Presentations, has been selected as the Czech Republic’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards in the international feature film category. The pic follows the journey of an unnamed [...]

  • Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar'

    Pakistan Picks Freshman Effort 'Laal Kabootar' as Its Oscar Entry

    Pakistan’s Academy Selection Committee has chosen “Laal Kabootar” as its candidate for the Oscars’ international feature film category. Directed by first-time helmer Kamal Khan, the gangland thriller set in Karachi’s underbelly follows the events that transpire when a woman in search of her husband’s killer is thrown together with a cab driver and petty criminal [...]

  • Atlantis

    Toronto Film Review: 'Atlantis'

    “It took you 10 years to cleanse this region of Soviet propaganda and myths,” says one character to another in “Atlantis,” going on to suggest that the devastation now left behind may never be “cleansed” at all. A strikingly bleak vision of a near future in which Ukraine has won its war with Russia but [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content