Changing his story
Documentary Media MFA alumnus
When he was nine, Dominic Akena was abducted and forced to become a child soldier in Uganda. His story was featured in the 2007 Academy Award-nominated documentary War/Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix. Now, he’s telling his own stories as a documentary filmmaker.
What was it like being a child soldier?
It was terrifying. We were in constant fear of being beaten by the rebel soldiers who abducted my brother and me. After they separated us, I became emotionally numb but knew I had to go on. Eventually I managed to escape but I never saw my brother again. It still haunts me to this day.
Why did you want to be a documentary filmmaker?
When Sean and Andrea came to my village, I didn’t know what a documentary was. But I saw them use their vision and skills to share my story with the world, and that changed my life physically, mentally and emotionally. That showed me the power of film and I wanted to learn that for myself.
How was your Ryerson graduate experience?
Ryerson played a huge role in my journey. As a community, Ryerson is woke and very supportive of students in special situations like mine. [Former Documentary Media graduate program director] Katy McCormick really helped me with the application process as an international student, and is a big reason why I’m here today. Ryerson gave me the opportunity to tell my story and I’m very grateful for that.
What is your thesis film Safari about?
“Safari” is a Swahili term for human journey so it’s about my immigration story and what it means to be a child soldier. There’s the physical journey of trying to embrace life in a new culture and environment, and the mental journey of trying to compartmentalize my memories and deal with my trauma.
How did Ryerson Graduate Studies help you become career-ready?
My supervisors Dr. Gerda Kammerer and Dr. Blake Fitzpatrick were instrumental in my thesis film’s success. Ryerson Graduate Studies taught me to produce films with a level of confidence and comfortability I didn’t have before… I couldn’t see another purpose of going through all of that, other than to tell stories that matter.
Photo: Ian Patterson