Filmmaker Profile: Klaartje Quirijns, THE DICTATOR HUNTER

Posted on April 1, 2009

Dutch filmmaker Klaartje Quirijns first met Reed Brody and Souleymane Guengueng when the two men were sitting under a map covered with mug shots of dictators from around the world. Brody, a human rights lawyer, pointed to one of them and said, “This is one of the most brutal dictators you probably never heard of: Hissene Habré of Chad… And we want to bring this man to justice.” 

Guengueng was a survivor of that dictatorship who lost his sight in prison. Quirijins knew immediately that she had to tell their story. Quirijns grew up in the Netherlands and has spent her career making films about subjects ranging from life in prison, war criminals, street kids and the war in Kosovo. She is known for making films that tackle impunity, often set against the backdrop of America and Europe’s role in international politics. “Morality and justice are murky waters to swim in. The more I started to get involved, the more layers I saw in this story: religion, sacrifice and the miscommunication between people, countries and continents,” she says. 

Hissene Habré, the former leader of Chad, is charged with killing thousands of his own countrymen in the 1980s. The documentary follows Brody on his relentless seven-year quest to bring Habré to justice. It is also a portrait of Brody, who sacrifices money and time with his family to pursue the case. Quirijns says her films explore where people come from and why they do what they do. “Who is this man? Is he a Don Quixote or is he vain, arrogant or just naïve?” she asked. Quirijns hopes viewers will draw their own conclusions. In the three years spent filming THE DICTATOR HUNTER, Quirijns became as obsessed as the characters in her film with the Habré case. “I remembered waking up in the hospital after surgery when I was ordered to stay in bed for a week, but then I saw an email from Reed that Habré was arrested. With no budget for the film yet, I decided to go to Dakar that same evening.” 

She kept filming, despite violent outbreaks in Chad throughout the production. “The Habré case is a wake-up call to dictators in Africa and elsewhere, that if they commit similar atrocities they could also face justice one day—not only by special court, but also instigated by ordinary individuals.” THE DICTATOR HUNTER will have its U.S. television premiere on Sunday, April 26 at 10 PM on Global Voices on PBS World (check local listings). Watch a video preview below:    


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