TORONTO – “Mission Congo,” a documentary feature delving into Religious Right leader Pat Robertson’s exploitation of one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times for what appeared to be his own personal gain, will premiere this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
The film uncovers Robertson’s alleged hypocrisy and exploitation of the Rwandan refugee crisis, and his operation of a diamond mining endeavor using planes, and possibly other resources, from his charity, Operation Blessing International.
Documentary filmmakers Lara Zizic and David Turner were researching a feature script when they came across an article by Bill Sizemore in the Virginian Pilot, detailing how Pat Robertson, on “The 700 Club,” raised money for the Rwandan refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On the show, he claimed that Operation Blessing International was using its cargo planes to aid refugees – however, it was uncovered that much of the time, the planes were being used to haul mining equipment to a diamond mining concession in a completely different part of DRC for Robertson’s for-profit company, the African Development Co.
Zizic and Turner were immediately fascinated, and contacted the pilots who carried mining equipment for Robertson. These initial interviews led them to contact the miners involved in these operations, and their stories convinced them that a film needed to be made to tell this story. That film, “Mission Congo,” premieres on Friday evening at TIFF.
Despite his high standing and level of respect in the Religious Right community, Robertson is a figure who has been embroiled in numerous controversies throughout his career, not least of which are his relentless disparaging comments about other religions including Islam (and other Christian denominations such as Presbyterians and Methodists), as well as feminists, liberals, and perhaps most consistently, homosexuals. Most recently, Robertson drew the ire of the gay community for claiming on the Aug. 27 episode of “The 700 Club” that members of the San Francisco gay community would deliberately infect people with AIDS by cutting them with sharp infected rings while shaking hands.
Zizic and Turner released a statement about their goals with the film:
“Sometimes a story hits you so profoundly that you simply have to act. We were researching a fiction script when we came across an article mentioning Robertson's dual activities in Congo. We felt that these activities, and implied level of deception, were unfathomable on so many levels that we had to find out more. How could something like this happen? Why was there not more coverage in the media? How did he get away with it? If it happened then, is it still happening now?”
Zizic and Turn hope that the new evidence about Robertson’s corrupt practices presented in “Mission Congo” can lead to a re-opening of past investigations regarding Operation Blessing, and encourage a conversation about more responsible oversight of charitable and religious organizations.
“The film raises larger questions over the billions of dollars raised by American religious institutions that go untaxed and unregulated,” said Thom Powers, International Documentary Programmer for TIFF. “Robertson's organization alone earns annual revenues in the hundreds of millions. If this story can bring about greater accountability, that would truly be a blessing.”
Robertson declined to be interviewed for the film. As a second chance to speak to the content of “Mission Congo,” the filmmakers are extending an invitation to him to participate in the post-screening Q&A at the film’s premiere on Friday evening.
“Mission Congo” – which premieres this weekend in Toronto -- is currently seeking distribution, and is being repped by Cinetic Media.