Adrian Belic’s “Beyond the Call“ follows the three renegade activists who make up Knightsbridge International, Ed Artis, James Laws, and Walt Ratterman, on self-funded humanitarian excursions to some of the most extreme war zones and disaster sites on earth. Fed up with bureaucracies and the thinly veiled agendas of traditional humanitarian organizations, these men take matters into their own hands — and have a hell of a good time cursing, fighting, and nearly getting murdered along the way. Some call the members of Knightsbridge International crazy, but they continue to lead important lives of sheer excitement while most men their age are tending flower gardens, washing station wagons, and waiting for the good lord to take them away. Ed Artis can see why people might think he’s a little nuts, but at least he’s not “a complacent, apathetic, sit on your ass kind of guy.”
“Beyond the Call” plays the Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema from Dec. 1st through Dec. 7th, with Ed Artis in person on opening weekend. I tracked down Adrian Belic over Thanksgiving weekend for an email conversation about his experience making this film.
SF360: How did you meet up with Ed and Jim?
Adrian Belic: I met Ed in 1999 at a screening of my previous film, ‘Genghis Blues‘ that my brother and I made, at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. He enjoyed the film and really appreciated what we had to say in the Q&A about why and how we make our films. Long story short, he came up to me after the Q&A and pitched me a story I could not refuse. Near the holidays of that same year, he invited me to go with him and his guys to Afghanistan to help the suffering people. I said ‘Yes,’ and jumped on a plane with my camera.
SF360: Ed sort of reminds me of my grandfather, only his version of living life to the fullest involves helping dying children, while my grandfather dedicated himself to hard drinking, motorcycles, and sleazy women (excluding my grandmother, of course). Have you ever seen this sort of adventurous/rough nature combined with altruism before? It seems you have those qualities as well.
Belic: That is one of the biggest things that drew me to the characters in ‘Beyond the Call.’ They are guys that you would not look twice at on the street. When you meet them they are rough-and-tumble guys. But they do things that many far left wingers wish they had the balls to do. That is what was so intriguing about them and why I thought it would make such a compelling movie. In the guys, you see people that would just as quickly knock you on your ass as they would pick you up. That gives them a street credibility that few, if any, ‘humanitarians’ have.
I always envisioned that this film would speak to the middle 80 percent of this country that is fed up by an ineffective bureaucracy and bullshit. These three average Joes that cut right through that kind of crap and get right down to the business of helping people and asking nothing in return.
SF360: Ed and Jim seemed sort of crotchety and rough around the edges. Were they easy to get along with?
Belic: Yes, they are all that, nonetheless, they were great to get along with. We had so much fun together, even in the toughest of times.
SF360: Ed and Jim brushed Walt off for a whole year. How were you able to gain their trust? Did they see you as an asset to the team?
Belic: I think that ‘Genghis Blues’ and Ed hearing about how and why we make films went a long way to having Ed be interested and begin to trust me. But the first trip I went with them overseas was a test run to see if I could really hack the adventure. I guess I passed the test. When you go to places like Knightsbridge does with as little official assistance as they do, the old saying that you are only as strong as you weakest link is often a life-or-death reality. So you better pick your partners carefully.
SF360: Were you ever scared for your life during the filming? Does any one particular incident stand out?
Belic: There were numerous times when we came across bandit rogue checkpoints on the road in the dead of night or had guns pointed in our face with people screaming at us and I did not understand a word they were saying. In unconventional war zones, the thing about danger is that once you realize that you are in great danger, it is often too late. In places like I traveled to make this film, it was very often breathtaking landscapes and people with smiling faces that could not be more welcoming and hospitable. And then everything can change in a blink of an eye. Since I am typing you this, it is proof that though we may have come close to instant death on numerous occasions, we were always just far enough to come home. Probably the most scared I ever was, was in October, 2001, when Jim Laws, who had a broken foot, and I had to sneak out of Afghanistan back into Tajikistan in a 20-foot container.
SF360: Did you also have to pay your own way?
Belic: I paid most of my own way. On occasion when we hired things that were group-oriented, like a room, car or bodyguards, the guys would often say not to worry about it and let me slide. I funded the whole production of the film with my own money and credit cards for the first three years.
SF360: Are there any other groups like Knightsbridge?
Belic: I have not met any that can do what they do.
SF360: How did you get into making these types of intense travel documentaries?
Belic: As the Knightsbridge guys say, they want to live life to the fullest and so do I.
SF360: Do you still hang out with Ed, Jim, or Walt? What are they doing these days?
Belic: Ed, Jim and Walt are my very, very dear friends now. I am in touch with all of them on a regular basis. Ed and Jim have come to a few festival screenings. Ed is with me this weekend in Chicago for the theatrical opening and will be with me next weekend (Dec. 1, 2, 3) in San Francisco, participating in Q&A after the weekend screenings. Walt has been out of the country most of this year. Ed recently got back from the Southern Philippines and is now planning a trip to Darfur. Jim has been in the States for the past few months doing his cardiology practice.
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