LIBERIA: What if your father turned out to be very different than you think he is?

Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: April 4, 2019

When she was just a child, Clarice and her siblings moved to The Netherlands because their home country of Liberia became too unstable and unsafe to live in. Their father, a man named Martin Gargard, stayed behind. Clarice grew up seeing him every now and then, when he visited the family in The Netherlands. She always loved him and was always a «daddy’s girl», but deep inside she always wondered what his work back in Liberia, during its two civil wars, was about. Daddy and the Warlord is a mesmerizing and very personal journey, following Clarice in an increasingly tense search to find the truth and to understand who her beloved father actually is and was.

A Mystery Game

The film feels like an emotional and cinematic version of a mystery game, the kind where players enter different rooms and spaces and asks questions, the sum of which lead them to a new realm. This is what happens to Clarice, her reality gradually changes as she meets different people, asking them what they know about her father and his role during the civil wars.

Daddy and the Warlord. Director(s): Shamira Raphaëla

The scenes of her encounters are mixed with close ups of black skin and body details of black people, their memories of war narrated in voiceover. These images feel surreal and the people’s voices are at times just whispers. Their words go deep. Each story feels imprinted on their bodies and in their minds, as each memory is linked to intense emotion, sound or sensation. Their sum is the mosaic of pain left behind by war.

The story of the Liberian Civil Wars is complicated, connected to the country’s tribal and ethnic structure, and also to its past. Liberia was founded by freed African-American slaves in the early 1800s, but the indigenous never reconciled with the newcomers.

The film feels like an emotional and cinematic version of a mystery game

The country was under the rule of these Americo-Liberian colonizers until the 80’s, when Samuel Doe took charge by killing the serving American-descended president. The first war began in 1989 when Charles Taylor, a man whose father was Americo-Liberian and mother indigenous African – returned to Liberia from Ivory Coast, together with 100 rebels (forming The National Patriotic Front of Liberia) to oust Doe’s repressive regime. He joined hands with a rival warlord, Prince Yormie Johnson, who killed Doe, but soon enough Johnson and Taylor turned against each other. What followed was seven years of civil war.

A mad war

ECOMOG, the West African peace-keeping force, eventually stepped in. Nigeria offered Johnson asylum, and Taylor held election in 1997 winning 75% of the vote. Yet, this election brought more violence at a scale beyond imagination, a mad war fueled by drugs, with child soldiers, violent rapes, and stories of cannibalism. The violence only ended in 2003. More than fifteen years later, Taylor is in jail, but most warlords and people directly responsible for the bloodshed were never tried for what they did. And as the film unfolds it becomes clear that Martin Gargard is one of them.

Daddy and the Warlord Director(s): Shamira Raphaela, Clarice Gargard

He tells his daughter he worked for the government, as an engineer for Telecom Liberia. He doesn’t lie, but the facts he does tell are selective, not truly explaining his involvement and the implications of his actions in the war. Yet, the more people Clarice meets and the more places she visits, the more suspicious details surface. Most of their answers are as cryptic as her father’s, but they become like breadcrumbs guiding the way. There is mystery in the air through all these moments, and slowly the obvious starts to take shape until the picture becomes so clear it cannot be ignored or forgotten.

The scenes of her encounters are mixed with close ups of black skin and body details of black people

At the beginning of the film, Clarice says she finds it important to know the truth and put things in perspective. This is the version of her who does not know much at all. In her eyes, her dad is very dedicated and passionate about his work, very idealistic, and a do-gooder. Her love for this aging man, much shorter than her and with kind eyes, is so evident it is inflicting. But the more she finds out about him, and the more her affectionate image of him changes, the more silent she becomes, until all the truths knocking down the ideal of her father are too painful. Yet, the truth is in the open, it cannot go away, it is just there.

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