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Alfonso Cuarón’s remarkable blockbuster Gravity has enjoyed fantastic critical success, collecting enough stars from film reviewers to fill the galaxy it so devotedly depicts. But how were those stunning images made? By taking a film crew up 372 miles above the earth? In fact those mesmerising images were planned and created here in Soho, London. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster made in Britain, from pre-production, through filming, to its extensive time in post production.
“I first heard about Gravity at the beginning of 2010,” says Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber, a long-time collaborator of Cuarón’s and the man he approached to help realise a film no one knew how to make, “Alfonso came in and talked us through the movie for 45 minutes and it was gripping. We all came out really excited having heard it.” At that point it was unclear to what extent visual effects (VFX) and Webber’s team at Framestore would be needed.
“There was a stage initially where it was going to be made with actors in real space suits,” Webber continues, “they would have been hung up on wires on partial sets and we would have extended it and put in the background.” In the end considerably more of it is CGI than first discussed, and in fact considerably more of it is computer generated than real. In the majority of shots the only elements captured with a camera are the faces. The vastness of space, the Earth, the stars (all 30 million of them), the space shuttles, Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station (ISS), the copious and equally villainous fragments of debris, even the space suits: they were all made by visual effects artists at Framestore.
George Clooney and John Prendergast 10:37 a.m. EST February 25, 2014
Renewed warfare creating a new generation of child soldiers. U.S. has a role to play.
The only activity in the hospital compound in Bor, South Sudan, these days is the dozens of vultures circling overhead. In mid-January, rebel forces swept into the Bor hospital, killing everyone that could not escape. Underscoring its crime, the group collected and burned the bodies of its victims. All that remains are bloodstained shoes, charred medicine vials, and overturned wheelchairs. Scorched patches of earth show where people were set on fire. When local residents are asked who was responsible, the answer is always the same: child soldiers of a militia called the White Army.
In the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of boys from the southern part of Sudan were driven from their homes and forced to trek hundreds of miles in search of sanctuary. Many were press-ganged into military service. They crossed two international borders, faced surreal life-threatening challenges, and eventually given asylum by the U.S. government, landing them in places like Phoenix, Atlanta, and D.C. They came to be known as the Lost Boys.
Today, renewed warfare in South Sudan is creating a new generation of Lost Boys. Two and a half years since winning its independence by way of a bloody, decades-long struggle strongly supported by the United States, rebel and government forces with their allied militias are recruiting young boys into their ranks. Merely two months into this new war, and at the direction of their “leaders,” these boys have committed numerous atrocities. They have also borne witness to monumental crimes that will only deepen cycles of vengeance and child soldier recruitment.
Since we witnessed South Sudan’s 2011 independence referendum, the children of the world’s newest country have received no peace dividend. There are few social services provided by the state. In fact, some of the better educational opportunities — few and far between — have come from original Lost Boys who left careers in the U.S. to return to their beloved homeland and finance their own schools. One such school we visited was started by Valentino Deng Ajak, the inspiration for the main character of Dave Eggers’ novel What is the What.
The state’s failure to provide infrastructure, education, or a stable investment climate has meant that young South Sudanese have few opportunities. Especially in the oilfields of the Greater Upper Nile region, where massive wealth from under the soil is exported out of the area with no discernible benefits to the communities, a huge reservoir of uneducated teenage boys has been easy recruiting fodder for rebel commanders and opportunistic politicians who use them to further their own ambitions. The largest concentration of child soldiers is from the loose collection of militias known as the White Army of the oilfield region, where thousands upon thousands of boys and young men from the Nuer ethnic group have been mobilized to join in South Sudan’s new rebellion. Local militia recruiters utilize ethnically charged messaging that polarizes the two dominant ethnic groups in the country, the Dinka and Nuer, which will necessitate decades of reconciliation efforts to heal.
Revenge has helped mobilize the child soldiers. During the conflict’s first few days, Dinka soldiers of the army’s presidential guard deliberately targeted Nuer civilians in Juba, lighting an ethnic match that has now engulfed parts of South Sudan. The United Nations is providing sanctuary for over 43,000 Nuer residents of Juba (over 900,000 have been displaced nationally in the last two months), who tell harrowing stories of being hunted by government soldiers targeting people of their ethnic group. Our Satellite Sentinel Project has captured imagery of subsequent destruction by both government and rebel forces and their militias.
A peace agenda must deal squarely with the burgeoning numbers of new Lost Boys and the broader crisis facing youth. To begin with, youth leaders must be part of a much more inclusive peace process in Addis Ababa. South Sudan and international donors should undertake a major investment in education, livelihood opportunities, demobilization activities, and psycho-social support for boys and girls throughout the country, particularly in areas where militia recruitment has distorted and militarized the aspirations of countless teenage boys. Credible accountability mechanisms need to be constructed to prosecute those that orchestrate atrocities and child soldier recruitment. The U.S. can play a crucial role in the success of these initiatives.
Meaningful future opportunities and an inclusive peace process will reduce recruitment and interrupt the cycle of conflict, child soldierdom, and ethnic division that has plagued this region for decades. The mass killing in the Bor hospital could symbolize another escalation in an expanding atrocity-fueled war, or provide a wake-up call that feuding politicians cannot be allowed to use hope-starved boys so cynically in pursuit of their ambitions. The answer will determine the fate of millions of South Sudanese children.
George Clooney, co-founder of Not On Our Watch, and John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, together created the Satellite Sentinel Project. USA Today
Amy Poehler waved the white flag on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” [The Clooney apology begins around the 2:05 mark]
Stephanie over at Contact Music looks back at one of George’s projects that never made it to the big screen.
The Ladies on the View address George’s bachelorhood!
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