Adam Friedman is an Emmy winning producer who has produced over 23 documentaries. Friedman’s latest project, Shout Gladi Gladi takes us to Sierra Leone and follows one woman’s quest to cure fistula. Jazz Tangcay sat down with Friedman, we talk the being held at gunpoint, Scottish castles and we learn how Meryl Streep came on board.
Awards Daily: What is Gladi Gladi about?
Adam Friedman: Gladi Gladi is the name of a celebration that happens and it became a particularly apt title for the film, which we’re calling Shout Gladi Gladi, because the movie is about a phenomenal woman, Ann Gloag and the organization she runs. She has three hospitals; one in Nairobi, one in Sierra Leone and one in Malawi, and she takes these women who have been suffering from Fistula. I didn’t even know what it was when I first heard of the documentary.
In Africa, the level of medical treatment is way below than that here in the United States. Cesarian sections are almost impossible or rare to perform there, so when a woman can’t have a cesarean section or when the baby doesn’t leave the woman’s womb, it dies and all horrible things happen. This extraordinary woman, Ann Gloag, for the last seven years has been financing these three hospitals. Beyond that, she tries to get the women back into society. There’s a device that we highlight in the movie, a BBoxx, which is a solar powered generator that powers up to five USB cellphones at a time.
You have to understand, it’s not just about the baby dying in the woman’s womb, it causes all sorts of problems when it can’t leave. Fistula causes a hole and these women urinate all the time, they need diapers, it’s terrible. One of our patients in the movie says, “It’s like I need Pampers all the time, except they don’t make Pampers in Africa.” Anyway, this amazing woman spent her own money and is making a big difference. Before I started the movie, she did an interview and was asked, “What would you like to have happen?” and she replied, “I’d love for the world to shout Gladi Gladi” and it’s this festival they have when they’re cured and end their stay and leave the hospital which can last up to three months. So, the title is called Shout Gladi Gladi.
AD : How did the project come to be?
AF: My sister is a news reporter in New York, she interviewed Ann Gloag and told her you’ve got to meet my brother, he’s a documentary film-maker, a two-time Emmy winning producer/director, you’d love him. So, my sister called me. I flew to New York and I met Anne. She told me what fistula was and I said “Oh my God.” The more I got to talk to her, I told her she had to be in the documentary. She didn’t even want to be in it. So, she’s a big part of the movie and so are these women who are really extraordinary who go through this terrible thing.
In Africa, the men folk don’t take too kindly to these women who go through this awful thing, so that’s another problem. In the movie, we have a Nobel Prize laureate who talks about it so intelligently and so brilliantly. We’re really excited.
I think one of the things we’ve done in the movie, is tell a really fascinating tale about some really brave people on both sides of the operating table. Not just the people being operated on, but also the people helping them reintegrate back into society.
AD: What was the scariest moment of filming? And, What was the saddest?
AF: Oh my goodness. I’ll tell you the scariest for sure. We began filming in Scotland because Ann has a real castle, Kinfauns Castle and it’s stunning. I wanted to interview Ann in a comfortable setting. Then we went to Malawi, and I brought my wife. We landed in Malawi, and it’s a huge trip, from LA to Amsterdam, and then to Nairobi. We were picked up by one of our crew guys, we’re driving down the road and suddenly we’re pulled over at gunpoint.
It was a funny thing, I’ve done a lot of things with the military. I was going after pirates in the Gulf. I’ve done Afghanistan, but I’ve not been pulled up at gunpoint. It was three guys, we think they were army, or they could have been rogue. Malawi was a wonderful place so don’t get me wrong. Anyway, my wife is sitting in front of the car because she suffers from car sickness [chuckles] and I’m in the back with the bodyguard. There’s two guys with guns and one guy who’s the leader walks around and has this flashlight on my wife. I used to be a bouncer, and a situation like that has this ability to rise and rise, then it stops and goes calm. Or it goes over the edge and all hell breaks loose. We were just at this moment, I thought this guy was going to pull my wife out of the car, because this whole time he had this flashlight on my wife. Our driver, this wonderful guy named Watson is talking to him. It was like I was in the movie, Midnight Express saying, “boss are we ok?” but the guy wasn’t talking. I think the head dog there finally saw something because we had these UNICEF stickers on the car, just as I think he’s going to open the door, he stopped. He looks at my wife and said to her in English, “Make sure you keep your seatbelts on.” It was a terrible situation, but I will say that was the only bad experience we had. [laughing]. They’re wonderful people.
The saddest was clearly the slums, specifically Kroo Bay (Sierra Leone). We were there in May, just as Ebola hit. We were the last crew filming there before it hit. That was a sad and scary place to be. The immensity of the poverty is overwhelming. It’s horrific what these people live in. My dad used to say, “Here’s the key to the world, there are assholes and there are non-assholes.” It’s true, there are nice people and there’s bad people, but we mostly had nice people.
You see some of the victims, we had a nine-year old girl, she had been repeatedly raped and beaten that she could no longer walk. What do you do to that? You find out that she was given to “aunts and uncles” to raise because the mother couldn’t raise her. They’re not really aunts and uncles, they’re scum who take these kids, and that was really sad.
AD: How did Meryl Streep become involved with the film ?
AF: [Laughs] If you can imagine, when we got back, we had over 125 hours of footage, we started putting the movie together. My wife who had been an actress gave us a rough voice over track. It’s like I’m putting together a sculpture and there’s one color missing. It’s like Mona Lisa without the smile. I need to hear the voice of the person we choose in order to fully paint that picture. If you were narrating it, I’d cut it one way. If I were narrating it, I’d cut it another way. We started looking around for someone we thought would be wonderful. I’m a film maker I want people to see my film. We wanted to get someone who had the gravitas who would help the film. Long story short, Meryl Streep was the first person who came into our head. My sister, the same sister who introduced me to Ann Gloag, said “I might be able to get to her assistant with a rough cut” My sister got it to the assistant. We didn’t hear anything. It was getting dicey, it had been close to four months since we had the rough cut and we still didn’t have the voice-over. We got to Meryl and a few weeks later, I’m in NYC and I get this text, “I’d love to do your movie,” and it’s from Meryl Streep.
This was right around the Oscars, I was on my way back to LA. She told me she’d meet me in LA on the Saturday before the Oscars and do it there. So, we found a studio and this wonderful woman showed up on the morning before the Oscars, it’s hard to believe. First off, she’s the nicest woman on the planet, she’s the greatest. Secondly, I booked six hours for the studio because we had sixteen pages of dialogue to record. She was in and out of the studio in 54 minutes.
AD: No way?!
AF: Yes. She was wonderful and we were proud to have her.
AD: How did filming this change you?
AF: What I’ve done for the last twenty years has nothing to do with this. My genre is life experience. I go out into dangerous situations and do interesting things. This opened my eyes to the plight of women around the world. My mother was the first reporter to go to jail in 1959 for refusing to reveal a news source, so I’ve been blessed to have been brought up by strong women in my life. It was something I was around my whole life. To see the difficulty that the women in Africa face, to see them have the strength overcome that, to see a woman like Ann Gloag who really is wealthy enough to sit home and do nothing. Instead she’s always in Africa, she’s always writing checks, she’s always doing the right thing. The women themselves going through this horror. This woman we met had Fistula for forty years, it changed me, it made me embrace what I had. I feel different about many things now.
It was truly an experience of a lifetime. At the strangest moment you’ll wish you were back in Africa. You can’t read any literature about Africa without juxtaposing your own self there. I guess as any incredible experience, it has altered the way I look at women, certainly in Africa, and for the women trying to change.
Not to mention I have massive love for Meryl Streep. What she did was wonderful. It was 9.00 in the morning, the day before the Oscars. She had seven things to go to. My God, thank you for doing this.
AD: When can we expect to see Shout Gladi Gladi
AF: We’ll probably start screening it in May in New York and hopefully we’ll get it to Toronto.