The Making of Children in War (2023)

The Making of Children in War (1)

As long as we have been documentary filmmakers, we had always wanted to do a film on children in war. To us, it was one of those great classic themes that seemed at once immensely challenging and truly meaningful. With the brutal ethnic wars raging in Bosnia and Rwanda in 1994 in which children were being deliberately targeted and killed, the time seemed right to try and launch the project.

We had just completed our Academy Award-winning documentary film about a troubled inner-city elementary school in North Philadelphia entitled I Am A Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School. We really had enjoyed working with children while making that film and it seemed natural to continue working with children, albeit on a global scale. We were very fortunate to have a compassionate executive producer in Sheila Nevins at HBO. After the success of I Am A Promise she agreed to fully fund Children In War, and after four-and-a half years of production, the film is finally completed. In addition to Bosnia and Rwanda, we all agreed that we would also try to tell the story of children who had never known peace in their lifetime: Children growing up in countries experiencing long-term "low intensity" wars of terrorism. After much debate, we decided to go to Israel to film both Palestinian and Israeli children and to Northern Ireland to film the children of the Troubles. By exploring the voices of children in war in four different conflicts, we hoped to arrive at some larger portrait of the state of the world at the end of the 20th century. We wanted the children in these four countries to speak for themselves: to describe their lives and what it is like growing up in a war zone. We also felt that there could be a deeper meaning to these children's interviews. Perhaps children growing up in war zones could tell us some underlying truths about our own moral universe.

(Video) Duty of Care - the game played by children in war

The production logistics are formidable and we ended up making nine international research and filming trips. This included three trips to Bosnia-all during the actual war, and two trips to each of the other countries. Because we were working as independent filmmakers and not as part of a large network or cable news organization, we were pretty much on our own. Arriving in each country cold, we had to figure out where to stay, negotiate the local currency in the black market, rent cars, hire assistants, obtain press credentials, and quickly assess which part of town to avoid. In Bosnia there were no functioning hotels where we did our filming and we did the best we could under the circumstances. In each country, we went through a series of drivers and rental vehicles that are best forgotten.

Additionally, we had to find translators that we could work with in interviewing the children. The film encompasses five different languages: Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, Arabic, Kinyarwandan and English. Making a film in five languages only one of which we spoke, was perhaps the greatest challenge in both the filming and editing of the documentary. It was very difficult for Susan who had to interview children through interpreters. And there were other concerns with this kind of interview: Susan had consulted with child psychologists prior to doing the interviews and they all encouraged her to get the children to openly talk about their war-related experiences. Only through freely expressing themselves in this way can children in war begin to take control of the traumatic events they witnessed.

We had made two significant aesthetic decisions at the outset of the production. The first was to shoot in 16mm film and not on videotape. Alan wanted the documentary to have a visual look to it that differed from the instant war news reports we are all used to seeing on TV. Film, he believed, could lend a richer, more nuanced texture to the documentary. Having said that, shooting on film did prove to be daunting, especially in Bosnia and Rwanda. There simply was no support system in either country for the equipment, the raw stock or the laboratory processing.

(Video) Children of War: A Video for Educators

The second big decision we made was to employ subtitles in the final film, not the more usual voice-overs used on American television. We wanted very much for audiences to hear the actual quality of the children's voices—even if viewers couldn't actually understand what the boys and girls were saying without reading it on the screen. Home Box Office supported us in this decision and we have never regretted it—although creating more than five hundred subtitles in the final filmwas a nightmare of extremely detailed work.

Moreover, there were no functioning banking systems in either Bosnia or Rwanda during our filming. This necessitated carrying large amounts of cash on our bodies. Although nothing ever happened to us because of this, it was just one more anxiety—producing aspect of the production. We're often asked if we were in danger making this film? The answer is obviously YES. In fact HBO made us take out life insurance policies equal to our production budget, making them the beneficiaries. We assumed this was a new wrinkle on "cast insurance." Plus, we carried body armor that included flakjackets and bullet-resistant Kevlar vests. However we rarely, if ever, wore them. They were heavy and cumbersome, making it difficult to operate the camera and sound recorder.

Rwanda was probably the most dangerous of the four countries, especially at night when we were driving back from the Zaire border and were often stopped by young men with automatic rifles at makeshift roadblocks. Were they government soldiers? Or were they members of the Hutu Interahamwe, the perpetrators of the genocide?

(Video) Children of World War 2 | The Effects of War on Children | Award Winning Documentary | 1946

Any discussion of the tribulations or dangers involved in the making of Children In War pales, however, in comparison to the suffering of the children we filmed. While we faced risks and hazards, our problems were temporary. Soon we would be back in the U.S.A. editing the production. For the children of Bosnia, Israel, Rwanda and Northern Ireland, their war-related trauma may last a lifetime and their losses include parents, brothers and sisters.

The emotional toll of making the film was actually the most difficult aspect of it. As the parents of an 11-year-boy, we kept wondering how our son would cope with the tragic events these children had witnessed? How could he survive living alone in the Goma Camp for one year? We're still haunted by the brave little boy Sanel who lived through three years of the war in Bosnia. When Sanel was asked what he would say to children who don't know what it's like to live in war, he answered poignantly, "It is very difficult to live in war. You just wait for the moment you will die."

Making Children In War was a great opportunity for us as broadcast journalists to be involved in global issues. We are very pleased that in addition to the HBO airing of the film on January 31, 2000, we have been given the opportunity to write a companion book on Children in War for TVBooks published by Harper Collins. We'll be able to include many more of the children's interviews than we were able to in the documentary. We're also planning to use many of the children's drawings seen in the film as well as poems and stories they wrote for us.

(Video) Ukraine War: Children showing bravery amongst the chaos

Despite the emotional and physical challenges we faced, making this film was a profoundly rewarding personal journey for us as well. We will never forget the beautiful children we met and hope that their interviews will stand as significant collective memories that express some permanent, enduring truth about the madness of these wars fought at the end of the 20th century.

In addition to the Oscar-winning I Am A Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School, Alan and Susan Raymond are prolific documentarians whose work includes An American Family; Police Tapes; ToDie for lreland; Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House; Elvis '56, and many others appearing on outlets such as HBO, Cinemax, and PBS.


How do children become participants in war what is the effect of war on lives of children? ›

Children who grow up in the midst of war usually lack basic necessities, face disrupted family relationships, and even experience increased patterns of family violence. This type of environment makes it difficult for communities to foster healthy cognitive and social development.

What are 3 ways in which younger children ages 3 11 helped with the war effort? ›

Children collected many useful things, such as blankets, books and even conkers. Some things were sent to the soldiers at the front. Others were sold to raise funds for the war effort. Money raised could be used to build warships or to help wounded soldiers.

What did children do in the war? ›

Children of all ages could get involved in the war effort. Older boys and girls joined the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. They supported Air Raid Precautions by acting as messengers or fire-watchers. Younger children helped salvage war materials, raised money for munitions or knitted comforts for troops.

Why are children the most impacted in war? ›

Psychological suffering. Children are exposed to situations of terror and horror during war – experiences that may leave enduring impacts in posttraumatic stress disorder. Severe losses and disruptions in their lives lead to high rates of depression and anxiety in war-affected children.

What factors lead to children being used as soldiers? ›

Children become part of an armed force or group for various reasons. Some are abducted, threatened, coerced or manipulated by armed actors. Others are driven by poverty, compelled to generate income for their families. Still others associate themselves for survival or to protect their communities.

How and why adults should talk to children about the war in Ukraine? ›

Be honest: explain the truth in a child-friendly way

Children have a right to truthful information about what's going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.

How can we help children in war? ›

10 Tips for parents and teachers of elementary school children in a time of war
  1. Talk with your child. ...
  2. Make your home a safe place emotionally for your child. ...
  3. Limit the amount of news your child watches during a time of war. ...
  4. Realize that the stresses of war may heighten daily stresses.

What is happening with Ukrainian children? ›

There is still no safe place for children in Ukraine.

Every war is a war against children. Right now 7.5 million children in Ukraine are in grave danger of physical harm, severe emotional distress, and displacement. The impact on civilians is reaching terrifying proportions.

What happened to children during the war? ›

Many children had to grow up quickly during wartime. Many children had to look after themselves and younger siblings while their mothers worked. Nearly two million children were evacuated from their homes at the start of World War Two. They were evacuated to the countryside to escape the bombing.

What was it like for a child at war? ›

However many children were very sad and scared at this time as their brothers and fathers were away at war and they lived in fear of invasion or attack which could also result in them having to move out of their homes. They had no TV's and not many had radios, and food and clothing were scarce.

What role did children play in the war effort? ›

Volunteering: Children were expected to do their bit for the war. Many lied about their age so they could enlist, but those left behind were called on to pack clothing, knit 'trench comforts' (socks, scarves, etc.), work on farms and help at hospitals.

What are 3 things that child soldiers are used to do? ›

Child soldiers are boys and girls who are often abducted and used as combatants, forced to act as human shields or conduct executions, deployed as suicide bombers, or used to make or transport explosives. Other roles include working as guards, spies, messengers, porters, cooks or domestic servants.

What are three 3 ways we can support and respect a child to learn more than one language? ›

Picking up different languages is therefore likely to be confusing for them.
6 tips to support children with English as an Additional Language in your setting
  • Use minimal language. ...
  • Keep it visual. ...
  • Encourage learning through play. ...
  • Celebrate a child's culture. ...
  • Respect their family's wishes. ...
  • Use local support.
Jan 6, 2015

What are the three most important things that a child needs in order to thrive? ›

The eight things kids need to thrive

Kids must feel safe and sound, with their basic survival needs met: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.

Who are children affected by war and conflict? ›

Besides being among the many civilian casualties during an armed conflict, children may be orphaned or separated from their families and become heads of households which leaves them vulnerable to forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment in armed forces.

What are the effects of conflict on children? ›

Frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between parents can place children at risk of mental health issues, and behavioural, social and academic problems. It can also have a significant effect on a child's long-term outcomes.

What is the impact of conflict in children? ›

The effects of armed conflict on children are both direct and indirect. Direct effects take the form of physical injury, developmental delay, disability, mental and behavioral health sequelae, and death.

Why do children fight in war? ›

Children are targeted for their susceptibility to influence, which renders them easier to recruit and control. While some are recruited by force, others choose to join up, often to escape poverty or because they expect military life to offer a rite of passage to maturity.

What problems do child soldiers face? ›

Child soldiers, both as a victims and perpetrators, have experienced and committed violence. This causes severe traumatic stress and deteriorating effects on mental health, such as the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Are child soldiers always forced to fight? ›

Although child soldiers are often forcefully recruited, in a number of armed conflicts it is common for boys and girls to be "pushed" to join an armed force or group, out of fear, coerced, or when left with few other choices.

How is the war affecting the lives of the family? ›

Among the more observable effects of war on the family are the withdrawal of young men from civilian, and their entrance into military, life, with a consequent increase in socially disapproved forms of behavior; the entrance of women into industry to replace the men drawn into the armed forces, with an accompanying ...

What are the effects of wars on our lives? ›

Death, injury, sexual violence, malnutrition, illness, and disability are some of the most threatening physical consequences of war, while post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety are some of the emotional effects.

What are the consequences of war in children? ›

Armed conflict in urban spaces has devastating and disproportionate effects on children. They face the risk of death or injury, malnutrition and disease, mental health problems, loss of homes and education, displacement and separation from their families.

What are the effects of child soldiers? ›

According to the study authors, former child soldiers may face rejection from family and their communities, along with physical injuries and psychological trauma. Previous studies have found former child soldiers have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.


1. Yemen - kids and the war | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)
2. Children in War: Rob Williams at TEDxWarwick 2013
(TEDx Talks)
3. What can be done to help children in war? | Inside Story
(Al Jazeera English)
4. Children of War - Sierra Leone - January 2000
(Journeyman Pictures)
5. The Art of War: Pictures of war seen through the eyes of children
(CBS Mornings)
6. What Started the World War I? | Educational Videos for Kids
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Last Updated: 02/27/2023

Views: 6201

Rating: 5 / 5 (50 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Birthday: 1996-05-19

Address: Apt. 114 873 White Lodge, Libbyfurt, CA 93006

Phone: +5983010455207

Job: Legacy Representative

Hobby: Blacksmithing, Urban exploration, Sudoku, Slacklining, Creative writing, Community, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Merrill Bechtelar CPA, I am a clean, agreeable, glorious, magnificent, witty, enchanting, comfortable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.