Dakar — Rape has been widely documented as a weapon of war in eastern Congo
A new film on Netflix aims to make eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's brutal conflict feel personal as it follows rape victims' "awe-inspiring" path to recovery, said director Madeleine Gavin.
"City of Joy", released last week, is about a centre of the same name where survivors of sexual violence go to learn skills and move past their trauma.
The film includes intense sequences of women telling each other about their rapes as well as scenes of them laughing and celebrating in the yards and classrooms of the brick compound, in the city of Bukavu.
"What was amazing was that there was this kind of resilience, this palpable desire to live after what they had been through," said Gavin from her home in New York.
"For me that was awe-inspiring," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rape has been widely documented as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, which remains largely controlled by militia groups since the end of a 1998-2003 war in which foreign armies and rebels vied for control over mineral resources.
In the film, characters explain how fighters often rape women in front of their families when they attack, causing victims' husbands to abandon them and the women to live in shame.
"There's a lot of people in these villages who are living with their story and never expressing it to anyone," Gavin said.
City of Joy was opened in 2011 by Nobel prize-nominated gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, Congolese activist Christine Schuler Deschryver and American playwright Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues.
Since then, over 1,100 women have passed through.
Part of the women's joy comes from learning that they have rights and that it's okay to be outraged, Gavin said.
"They really are now beginning to change the culture in these small villages from the inside out, because they're going back and they're teaching other girls the same things."
Gavin, a first-time director, said she wants the film to draw attention to a conflict that much of the world has ignored.
"I hope people will start to care about the women of Congo, and I think they will."
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change.