General Butt Naked
Joshua Milton Blahyi --aka General Butt Naked --was a ruthless and feared warlord during Liberia's 14-year civil war. Today, he has renounced his violent past and reinvented himself as a Christian evangelist on a journey of self-proclaimed transformation. Blahyi travels the nation of Liberia as a preacher, seeking out those he once victimized in search of an uncertain forgiveness. But in the end, are some crimes beyond the pale of forgiveness?
Dubbed "General Butt Naked" for fighting with nothing more than an AK-47 and a pair of leather shoes, Blahyi believed he possessed supernatural powers that made him impervious to bullets. The General and his army of child soldiers are said to have killed thousands during Liberia's horrific civil war.
Following a dramatic conversion to Christianity, the General abruptly laid down his weapons in 1996, leaving behind his soldiers, his country and a war that would rage for another seven years.
Today, Blahyi is on a quest for redemption: facing those he once terrorized, preaching where he once murdered, and trying to rebuild the shattered lives of those he commanded during the war. For five years, filmmakers Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion tracked his often troubling path up-close, finding both the genuine and disconcerting in Blahyi's efforts. The film forces us to question the very nature of what true, meaningful reconciliation looks like in a country where justice has not been available.
Behind the Scenes
It started like any other morning on a shoot. We had breakfast at the hotel, chatted about the day, got the cameras acclimated to the humidity, and climbed in the truck to meet Joshua. He was a little vague about where we were going, and before we knew it we were in Solali, a slum on the edge of Monrovia.
"Follow me," Joshua said as he started walking away from the truck. Running a few steps behind Joshua we had no idea where he was taking us. Soon we were in the midst of a neighborhood of homes made of tin, plastic and trash. We had quite a parade behind us but we were still following Joshua and he wasn't saying much. Suddenly, Joshua froze. There was a man in a wheelchair to the right of us, but it was hard to tell whether he was who Joshua was looking at or not. Joshua was still 15 feet away from him and neither of them said anything.
Then, Joshua took a few steps toward the man in the wheelchair. His name was Senegalese. The kids who were following behind us grew quiet. Senegalese looked at the ground and said nothing. Joshua began apologizing.
It was a difficult scene to film, and it's still a difficult scene to watch. None of us moved while they had their exchange. It was too intense. Years earlier, Senegalese was Joshua's bodyguard, and one night they got into an argument. Joshua shot him several times in the legs and threw him into a room, leaving him to die. Soldiers found Senegalese several days after the incident on the verge of death. By that time there was too much damage done, and his legs had to be amputated. This awkward encounter was the first they'd seen each other since. Joshua was asking for his forgiveness.