Local director and filmmaker Eppo Eerkes won both the People’s Choice Award as well as the award for Best Drama at the Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) that took place Sept. 27 through until Oct. 6 for his short film titled The Child Soldier.
The short film which the story of Samuel, a boy living in a small village plagued by famine, war, and economic devastation. The film’s setting mirrors the economic situation in northern Uganda. But this tale will not be told against the backdrop of the African plain. Our main character, in fact, is a 12-year-old Caucasian. He lives with his mother and little sister in a run-down, ramshackle, Western North American community.
The setting is a fictional, war-torn world, isolated at the frontier of a developing nation. It’s set against the stark contrast and beauty of endless miles of forested mountains and wilderness. Samuel attends a communal school each and every day, boarding a military protected bus and studying under the watchful gaze of government troops. When his bus is ambushed by a group of rebels on horseback one day, his world is turned upside down.
Samuel’s story plays out in a fictional world, but his experiences, hopes, dreams, fears and conflicts are an amalgamation of a vast number of factual, documented accounts from real Ugandan children who have experienced similar fates. Samuel’s story is their story. It’s spoken in a new and desperately needed voice. His story stands as a symbol to all children who are forced to fight in wars worldwide.
Eerkes said it’s a huge honour for him to win the pair of awards.
“It’s overwhelming. That’s the one word I’d use to describe it … It’s been since 2006 when I came up with the idea and now to see it come to fruition, to see an actual completed project done and to see it honoured is overwhelming,” Eerkes said.
“Even more for a personal reason, I made a promise to a group of child soldiers that I met in the war zone and I made this promise to them that I’d make a film that was original, unique and would capture the eye of a new audience and tell the story of child soldiers worldwide. I was just following through on that promise.”
Eerkes said it was hugely important to him to keep the promise he made to those soldiers and make this film.
“When you experience something, put yourself out there to hear a story from an individual that is so hard to believe and then you see it … and you see what’s really happening to a society because we’re letting it happen, it leaves a scar on you,” Eerkes said.
“You leave and go back to your homeland of Canada and everything is safe and sound, but you have a scar and it feels horrible for carrying it and when I was up on stage (receiving his awards), I was standing there for those soldiers. It’s not for me, it’s for them … yes I have a passion to make great films to make a difference and that’s what this one is about.”
Eerkes is now looking to make The Child Soldiers a full length film that he hopes will be released by 2022.