by alaina bird & cory saul
Jessie Beauchaine, 1998 PLNU alumna, played a major journalistic role in the filming of the documentary “I Came to Testify,” part of the PBS series “Women, War & Peace.”
After earning a degree in history from PLNU, she attended Fuller Seminary and graduated in 2003 with a degree in Christian Ethics, Beauchaine then attended Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and graduated in 2009. She held an internship with “Women, War & Peace” and was later hired and assigned to Bosnia to work on “I Came to Testify.”
Beauchaine responded to The Point Weekly’s questions via e-mail.
PW: How long did it take to produce the documentary? What difficulties did you encounter in the process?
Jessie Beauchaine: When I joined the project in January 2010, only cursory research had been done on Bosnia. So I think it would be fair to say that once serious production started, it took about a year and a half, not counting over a year of advance fundraising that began back in 2008.
I learned quickly that there are all sorts of things that can go wrong during the making of a documentary. People say yes to being interviewed and then get cold feet. Locals are hostile, transportation breaks down, shoots have to be rescheduled because the camera person’s flight is delayed. We had all those problems and more.
PW: What inspired you to pursue this subject?
JB: A huge part of it was basic curiosity. I think a lot of people still think of war as being primarily a men’s story. I certainly did before I joined this project. I had no idea, for example, that most of the casualties in today’s wars are women and children, or that women are often smack in the middle of the violence, just trying to hold the center, or that even though they’re not fighting, they’re often actually targeted — as in the case of Bosnia, where women were systematically raped and sexually enslaved as a means of scaring off people in neighboring villages and thereby ethnically cleansing a region.
PW: As a reporter, how did you handle interviews with Bosnian women about sensitive issues?
JB: In the film we profile two women in particular — [one] who testified (in the film we call her “Witness 99”) and another who is still fighting for justice. Both women were brutalized and their families murdered. Witness 99 has severe health problems and is still suffering from [post-traumatic stress disorder], 18 years later.
In 99’s case, she had been interviewed tons of times during the war while she was still living in a refugee camp. When I first met with her during the scout, I was trying to persuade her to be in our film. I already knew her story through our local fixers, so I was pretty confident we wanted her. But the minute I walked into her living room, she told me that the idea of talking with one more journalist made her want to puke. Those were her exact words. So I tried hard to make it clear through my words and body language that I was really there to listen, and also to affirm to her that I thought that she was an incredibly brave woman. We ended up talking for four hours. At the end of our conversation she showed me photographs of her sons who had been killed. I cried. It was embarrassing, but honestly I think she was surprised and deeply moved.
PW: How did this project impact you professionally and personally?
JB: Both professionally and personally, this project has been a game-changer. With this responsibility came a huge amount of stress and at times the learning curve was punishingly steep. But it forced me to learn how to take myself in hand, face my fears and failures, and then move on — and also, when to trust my instincts. Valuable life lessons.
PW: What message do you hope to leave with viewers? Why should people watch “I Came to Testify”?
JB: In a nutshell, the message is that even though women are more vulnerable than ever in today’s wars, they don’t have to be mere victims. They can be agents of change, pushing for justice and peace in the midst of conflict, and then occupying a seat at the table during post-war reconstruction, where they should be free to enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries.
PW: Why is this documentary important for not only women, but men as well?
JB: “I Came to Testify” and the “Women, War & Peace” series as a whole speak to the idea that women’s rights are human rights. We can’t have a healthy society if half of it is silenced, tortured, treated as “collateral damage” in wartime and denied the chance to self-determine and flourish. Anyone — woman or man — who is interested in human rights will, I hope, find this series informative and inspiring.
“I Came to Testify” airs Tuesday, Oct. 11, on PBS, at 10 p.m.