Prisoners of Conscience


Story by Ryan Lund
Video by Angelina Hess, McKenzie Moran, Ryan Lund, and Matt Ishii

“You have to be very hopeful and optimistic on life, otherwise it will crush you.” —Endalk Chala

My project, “Prisoners of Conscience” with Endalk Chala, started like a lot of projects that I’ve done for the UO School of Journalism and Communication. I was told to find a good story and make a short documentary about it in Rebecca Force’s J331 Digital Video Production course, which I highly recommend. She knows her stuff, and seeing her start to tear up after watching our film let me know that my team had put together something special.

This film was mostly my teammate Angelina Hess’ brainchild. She was the one who suggested doing the documentary on Chala.

Chala is a doctoral student in the SOJC who is currently seeking asylum in the United States from Ethiopia. He is wanted for terrorism because he is part of a group of bloggers called Zone 9 Bloggers that has published criticisms about the lack of freedom expression in their home country. Chala’s story shows the extent to which some countries go to control their citizens and sheds light on how free the First Amendment truly permits us to be.

"Endalk had been a GTF of mine for Gateway 3, so before coming into this project, I was already invested in telling his story,” said Mackenzie Moran, one of the members of our filmmaking team. “Being able to learn from a man who has fought so hard for the ability to express his opinion and speak freely gave me an entirely different outlook on what it means to be a storyteller."

What’s funny is that the project almost never happened. We were given a few weeks to complete the whole thing but had difficulty communicating and lining up schedules until a few days before the documentary was due. So we spent two weeks researching Zone 9, the movement and Chala’s story. If we were to start this entire project over, I feel we should have done the interview a lot sooner.

But as it was, we didn’t get to interview Chala until just two days before the project was due. My role on the film was to do a lot of the technical camera work as well and to help Matt Ishii with the sound design. We used a Nikon D600 with a Rode shotgun mic for most all of the shots and filmed everything in just a few days.

Hess was our lead editor, and Moran edited and did some camera work for the interviews. Our interview with Chala ended up taking three hours, and Hess and Moran did a stellar job putting the video together. We spent literally the entire night in Allen Hall editing, from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., before Force’s 8 a.m. class.

Fortunately, Chala turned out to be a star. Everything he said was amazing, and he made me realize that I have always taken the First Amendment for granted. I feel I can speak for many individuals when I say that I never think about the rights this amendment gives us all. I just exercise them freely. But to hear the words, thoughts and opinions of someone who has lived without those rights put it all in a new light for me. The more he talked about Zone 9, the more on board with it I became.

My hope for this video is that it will open people’s eyes to the reality that this whole freedom of speech thing is unique. Our ability to do or say almost anything we want and have it protected by the First Amendment is huge. And for all of the individuals in the world who are limited in their speech, this project has shown me that I can help give those individuals a voice.

As Chala said, “Without freedom of expression, you can’t bring change of any sort.”

“Prisoners of Conscience” Team

Angelina Hess: Lead editor

McKenzie Moran: Editor, videographer

Ryan Lund: Lead videographer, sound editor

Matt Ishii: Lead researcher, sound editor