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`Liberia: American Dream?’ Producers: MSNBC

Jan 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

`Liberia: American Dream?’

Producers: MSNBC and `National Geographic Ultimate Explorer’

When producer Scott Bronstein and reporter Michael Davie traveled to Liberia in the summer of 2003, they expected to craft a “National Geographic Ultmate Explorer” episode about a country going through change.

They had initially planned to cover Liberia in terms of the changes the 14-year civil war had wrought in the country. It looked to be the perfect “Explorer” story, rich with issues of geography, borders, land, independence and influence, Mr. Bronstein said.

Six weeks later, they returned with 75 hours of film that became one of the franchise’s few two-hour editions of “Explorer” because of the vast, sweeping nature of the events the journalists had been able to chronicle and capture.

“What we ended up coming home with was a journal of a country that in six weeks went from terror and civil war spreading across the country to rebels overrunning the town, to a standoff in the middle of the town, to journalists being evacuated out of town, to African peacekeepers being flown into town from Sierra Leone,” Mr. Bronstein said. “Then coming back into town, then the [United Nations’] bringing a peacekeeping force into town. Our trip covered all of that.”

The documentary began the moment their plane landed at the abandoned airport in Monrovia, the capital. There was indiscriminate shelling all over town, and wire-service reporters debated whether they should stay any longer. “Everywhere you went there were boys with guns, gangs of boys with guns under 16,” Mr. Bronstein said. “These were the forces.”

On the fifth day of the trip, the rebels shelled a refugee area. “We had remarkable, gripping images of the massacre,” Mr. Bronstein said. “Crowds dragged bodies in front of the American embassy and yelled, `We need help.’ … They felt America had abandoned them.”

Mr. Bronstein and Mr. Davie spoke to many Liberians on camera. “I really think the reason the film resonated is we built it entirely on characters [we met] and separated it into acts,” Mr. Bronstein said. “We stayed with kids with guns and watched what happened to them, to doctors, to women who had been gang-raped.”