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Claire Leona Apps shows haunting and beautiful stories in documentary ‘Aceh Recovers’

Claire Leona Apps remembers the first time a film truly spoke to her. She was 15, and it was life changing for her. She distinctly recalls the feelings she had sitting in a movie theatre chair, overcome with the power of film as an artistic medium. She knew then she wanted to do the same thing for others, she wanted to be able to create and showcase underrepresented characters and themes and put them out there in the world. As a female, she often didn’t see her perspective on the screen. She was convinced then and there to make a difference.

“It’s such a fantastic experience when you find a film or television show that seems to resonate with you directly – getting goosebumps or crying or laughing uncontrollably at something that relates profoundly with you,” she said.

Throughout her career, Apps has shown time and time again just why she is a celebrated writer and director. Her films have a way of impacting her audience just the way she intended, and her decorated resume exemplifies that. Her award-winning film Gweipo introduced the world to Apps 12 years ago, and with films like, Girl Blue Running Shoe, Ruminate, and And Then I Was French, she has further shown viewers just what she is capable of.

Apps is extremely versatile, and although she is known for both writing and directing her own fictional films, her work in documentary is just as impressive. Her 2010 film Aceh Recovers educated and mesmerized audiences. After thirty years of conflict, the implementation of Sharia Law and being at the epicenter of a tsunami, millions of pounds has been pledged to Aceh Province in Indonesia. Now that the International NGO's occupation is ending, will the sorbet-colored houses and new infrastructure, truly secure a bright future? Aceh Recovers explores this issue.

“These people had lived through tragedy that most of us could not fathom. Yet they still find ways to live and try and smile. Life is sometimes unimaginably hard, but humans are also resilient. It was inspirational, to say the least. It is important to see the realities of rebuilding a city from nothing, with the politics and stresses in mass clean ups. We have such high expectations for what happens when we give money to causes; just fix it. But in truth, everything is more complicated than you initially expect,” said Apps.

Apps lived in Indonesia for her early childhood and always had a strong connection to the land, the people and the culture. It is still one of her favorite places to be. When the tsunami hit, the whole world united in how horrible the event was, but the location with the most deaths and the most trauma was a little-known area. Partially due to it being a war zone, under Sharia Law and being locked off from Tourism – there are many complications with this region.

Apps knew of the region, as her father’s business had an office in Aceh. Her family would often discuss how unbelievable and heart breaking the whole situation was. She knew she had to make a film that showed the world the locals’ stories. However, she had no idea how horrible it truly was for the people of Aceh until she was there, hearing stories of people losing their entire family.

“The worst for me was a man that had a newborn baby the day before the disaster. They survived the first hit of the tsunami, he went in to the house to get diapers, not expecting the second hit, which happens this close to the epicenter. His motorbike washed away, and sitting on the bike was his wife, his day-old baby, and his toddler. I shiver still thinking about it,” she said.

Apps was the driving force of the entire documentary. It was her idea and passion that got it made. At first, she went out to Aceh by herself to do preliminarily interviews and prep. She then went back with a two-person team and directed the rest of the documentary. During editing, she was very hands on, as she wanted to tell the stories of the people of Aceh as beautifully as possible.

Aceh Recovers premiered in London in 2008 and went on to be featured at the Philadelphia Documentary & Fiction Film Festival before being shown on Movieola, a short film channel in Canada. This success, however, is secondary for Apps compared to the feeling of showing the story to the world.

“It is wonderful that the film has seen such success. The people I met were all lovely despite living through such a horrible experience. There is a particular high when a project that deals with people’s real-life traumas gets out in the public. To tell people’s stories that would be unlikely to be told otherwise, and then see and feel people respond to it, it’s why you get into filmmaking in the first place,” she concluded.

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