do you get invited to Vanity Fair magazine’s party at the Tribeca
Film Festival in New York? Travel to the most dangerous place on earth
(Puntland, an autonomous portion of Somalia); spend two-plus years
focusing the unblinking eye of your Canon 5D camera on a rogues’
gallery and willingly risk your life alongside other participants to
make a documentary. That’s how Milwaukeean Adam Ciralsky earned his
glass of expensive champagne.
documentary, "The Project," was created in partnership with
Shawn Efran, his fellow veteran producer of numerous CBS "60
Minutes" stories. For years, Ciralsky has flown in and out of the
hellholes of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s won three Emmys for
reports on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," including
one on Hurricane Katrina. But the Puntland story about the Somalia
pirates was rough as it gets.
Ciralsky is an
intellectual bottomless pit. He has to know and tell. Years ago he
worked at the CIA and Department of Defense studying weaponry
proliferation. In November 2010, he began filming in Puntland, one of
four countries comprising the Horn of Africa. The lawless region is
without a military and piracy has long plagued international shipping
along the mostly uninhabited coastline. The pirates, who are from the
area, board ships, kidnap, imprison — sometimes for months — and
occasionally murder. They demand exorbitant ransoms. Nations do little
to nothing; shipping corporations ante up payoffs.
up, the Puntland president hired South African mercenaries to train a
counterinsurgency to fight the pirates. In high definition footage,
the 90-minute "The Project" shows malnourished young men
learning to wear shoes and handle weapons. South African mercenaries
conduct training. An American former counter-insurgency adviser in
Iraq and Afghanistan arrives to give advice. The notorious Erik
Prince, founder of Blackwater, is involved. The United Arab Emirates
help foot the training bill. Families of kidnapped sailors are
interviewed in their home countries. People are hurt; others die. The
camera keeps recording.
Project" almost didn’t happen when the advance crew was
arrested and held for 12 days on charges of "impersonating a
camera crew." Ciralsky bit his fingernails waiting in Nairobi,
Kenya, for a flight to Entebbe, Uganda, one of two airports from which
to fly into Puntland. Wryly, Ciralsky says, "The insurance on
this endeavor was enormous."
invited to premiere the film at the Tribeca Festival in April. The
Vanity Fair party was icing on the cake. The paparazzi lines were
blocks long outside the Supreme Court Building in lower Manhattan
where the party was held. Fashion gurus like Zac Posen and Vera Wang
attended, along with media types like Rupert Murdoch’s wife, Wendi
Deng. Movie and TV stars took dainty bites of appetizers, but Ciralsky
gravitated toward intellectuals like novelist Salman Rushdie and
actor/organizer Robert De Niro. After the first of three preview
showings, the rush ticket lines were long and abuzz with the cinema
verite quality of "The Project."
hopes the film makes people think about what the world might look like
as major powers pull back their militaries. Will the role of
mercenaries expand, and what does that mean for world order? "The
film asks what your Plan B is if you don’t like the mercenary
approach to the world’s hot spots. The U.N.? I’ve seen the Congo,
which has the largest U.N. forces. Child sex trafficking and rape are
way up. The Congo is awful. Whatever your preconceived notions about
this topic, you’re going to have to reconsider them after you see
Ciralsky has traversed the globe doing serious stories. His passport
is stamped so much it looks like a city phone book. How does a kid who
graduated from University School of Milwaukee end up in 10 to 20
countries a year, some of them multiple times. Therein is a cautionary
tale for parents. "I was lucky. Starting in seventh grade, my
parents sent me to a different country every summer until I graduated
from high school." He stayed put long enough to graduate magna
cum laude from George Washington University and law school at the
University of Illinois.
co-producer and agent are shopping "The Project." "We’re
in talks with some big names in a variety of venues." There’s
shelf space left for an Oscar amongst the three Emmys, Peabody, Polk,
Loeb, Barone and DuPont-Columbia University Awards. Ciralsky says he
is "platform agnostic. I like TV as much as movies."
Planning ahead, while editing his next article for Vanity Fair, he is
off to Norway for a global conference; he’s also mulling a TV
Productions, the anomalous name for his company, begs for analysis.
"Working at the Pentagon, I learned the physics package is the
business end of a warhead." Perfect name. Ciralsky is some kind
of truth-seeking missile. If you see a slender, intense young man
boarding a plane at Gen. Mitchell International Airport, he’s
probably Ciralsky leaving home — again.