BORDC’s March 2015 Patriot Award winner is Eric Juth, whose short film, Ghosts of Johnston County, exposes extraordinary rendition as it relates to a small town in North Carolina. Eric produced the film as part of his thesis project for a degree in documentary film production at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, with co-director Michele Ferris-Dobles.
Eric’s interest in the local link to extraordinary rendition began in 2012 when he read an article in The Washington Post that introduced him to a cast of characters he would come to know very well: Aero Contractors Ltd., Allyson Caison, North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN), and Abou el-Kassim Britel. From the article, Eric learned that Aero continued to operate out of the Johnston County Airport, where it had flown CIA rendition flights. He learned that people like Allyson Caison were working with the grassroots coalition North Carolina Stop Torture Now to protest those flights, and he learned that people like Abou el-Kassim Britel had been flown by Aero to sites where they were tortured as alleged terrorists. Eric felt this was a story that needed to be told in documentary form.
His intention was to “observe the situation without bias” in his film, to portray the conflict between the NCSTN activists and the North Carolinians who saw Aero as performing, at best, a patriotic task, and, at worst, mundane business as usual. As local conservative blogger Troy LaPlante says in the film, “If it wasn’t in Johnston County, it would just be somewhere else.”
Eric’s plan was to maintain “outsider status” while telling the story of an ordinary town where extraordinary rendition was happening literally in peoples own backyards, but the film morphed into something more akin to an advocacy piece because hardly anyone in Johnston County except the NCSTN activists would speak with him on camera.
Ghosts of Johnston County is a straightforward and powerful look at the evil that goes on around us and the activists who live among us—empathetic, hard-working, passionate residents who protest at their local airport and testify at their county’s commission meetings on behalf of survivors of extraordinary rendition such as Britel. Eric shows their willingness to risk arrest in order to gain publicity for their cause. He also highlights Britel’s suffering and his gratitude to NCSTN. Britel was released from imprisonment in Morocco due to the efforts of groups such as NCSTN and now lives in Italy with his wife.
Eric works as an adjunct professor and video artist and hopes to make more films as well. He describes himself as a facilitator for activists, someone who likes to work behind the scenes. “I’ve shown the film in academic contexts,” he says, including in conjunction with the School of Law Human Rights Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And his activism did not end with the release of Ghosts of Johnston County. NCSTN has spawned another group, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT), and Eric does media work for them. NCCIT is seeking to form a citizen-led inquiry into North Carolina’s role in extraordinary rendition and torture.
Ghosts of Johnston County is a documentary film that explores the links between a rural county in North Carolina and the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, a program through which detainees from the “war on terror” were disappeared, held indefinitely, and tortured. The film traces the story of a handful of persistent activists who lead an ongoing struggle to expose their community’s ties to this program and to shed light on the compelling stories of its victims. Ghosts of Johnston County unveils an “on the ground” account of this struggle, ending with a personal dialogue between activists and a European survivor of the “torture taxi” flights.
To set up a screening of the film for public or classroom settings or to purchase a copy for your institution or library, please contact Eric Juth by email.