Actor joins panel discussion about Africa | ParkRecord.com

Actor joins panel discussion about Africa

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A panel discussion Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival included actor Ben Affleck and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof discussing their film, "Reporter."

Affleck was the executive producer of the documentary which follows Kristof as he reports from Afghanistan and Central Africa.

The movie portrays life in Congo and the challenges correspondents face as belt-tightening at newspapers greatly reduces the number of foreign news bureaus. Kristof’s foreign coverage earned him two Pulitzer Prizes, reporting from the most dangerous places on Earth.

"It’s not really about Congo," Kristof told the large audience. "There are so many of these issues out there."

Fighting among the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda has led to violence in eastern Congo. "Reporter" shows teacher Will Okun and medical student Leana Wen traveling with Kristof in Africa. The trip with Kristof was a prize for winning an essay contest in 2007.

Affleck, who has traveled to Congo, said his interest in journalism was partly why he wanted to produce the documentary.

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"I’ve seen [the press] work in ways that have frustrated me. I’ve seen it work in ways that are misleading and wrong," said Affleck, describing tabloid journalists who have hounded him.

However, Kristof’s work in the New York Times sparked an interest in Africa, Affleck said.

"Advocacy journalism should be just like this," he said.

"I didn’t know any of this stuff. Then, here I am, wandering around in the Congo."

It’s difficult to create sympathy in readers for a place halfway around the world, explained Kristof, who called the war in Congo the most lethal conflict since World War II.

"There isn’t a vigorous ‘Save the Congo’ movement," Kristof lamented.

The columnist was asked if he must work to minimize his presence in his writing.

Kristof replied by reminding the audience of a column he wrote about sex trafficking of children in Southeast Asia. The columnist went as far as ordering a young prostitute in Cambodia, who he subsequently returned home without ever having sex with her of course.

"It was that injection of myself, that made people think about the issue of slavery," Kristof said.

Meanwhile, the election of President Barack Obama could give the United States "a lot of political leverage" in Africa, Affleck said.

"You think he’s a celebrity here; Barack Obama could be elected president of Africa," Affleck joked.

Utah author Terry Tempest Williams moderated the discussion.

"Reporter" is slated to screen in Park City during Sundance Jan. 22 at noon at the Temple Theatre, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinemas, and Jan. 24 at 9:15 a.m. at Holiday Village Cinema IV.