Un Certain Regard: “Johnny Mad Dog” by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog, based on the book by the same name by Emmanuel Dongola, premieres today in Un Certain Regard. It examines the tragic fate of child-soldiers abandoned to themselves, in civil-war-ravaged Africa: a stolen childhood, a continent ablaze, and a people striving to survive and preserve its share of humanity, despite everything.

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, speaking of his artistic ambitions for Johnny Mad Dog: “It was primordial for me to work with ex-children soldiers, who seemed to be the only ones capable of giving a sincere testimony of this horror. Liberia was not an easy choice at this time; the war had ended in August 2003 and a transitional government had been set up…What was important was to say that we would speak of children soldiers, a subject which has touched Liberia; but it is also a way to show that today the country is stable enough for us to shoot a movie in it.”

In 2003, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire made Carlitos Medellin, a feature-length documentary shot in Colombia which was awarded the 2004 Best Children’s Rights Film. Johnny Mad Dog is his first fiction feature.

At the Festival screening, producer Mathieu Kassovitz made the following statement: “I’d like to thank you for being such a big crowd tonight, and tell you how proud we are to have had the honor and opportunity to produce a film like this, made under such difficult conditions. We made a commitment to Jean-Stéphane, and tonight, we want to officially say, ‘Congratulations and thank you!'” Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire then took the mike: “It is my turn to thank the producers. Embarking on this adventure was not easy. I thank Mr. Bropleh and the government of Liberia, who really supported this film. Without their support, we couldn’t have made it. I thank the shooting crew, here tonight: that’s quite a treat for me. And also, those who were unable to be present: the children you’ll be seeing on screen. I dedicate this film to them. They’re wondering what’s going on here.”

Liberian minister of culture, information, and tourism Laurence Bropleh also attended the screening. He added: “Good evening to you. It’s good to be here in Cannes. On behalf of our president, the first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, you need to know that the president, the cabinet of the Republic of Liberia stand behind this film and appreciate that Liberia was the location. Liberia is trying to be a post-conflict success story… Liberia is a safer place today than it was yesterday, because for over a year, an international film company would come to Liberia and film a movie using Liberian young people to change their minds and their attitudes, to give them new hope, new vision, and a new dream. For that, our president and the whole Republic say thanks to all of you.”