Nothing in Children of Sodom and Gomorrah happens by accident. It is an exquisite – if, from the opening montage, uncomfortable – sound experience. The production – both Jarisch’s own origination in German and Sharon Davis’ re-versioning – is impeccable. It is thoroughly wrought. An artefact to admire. The famous scene in the manager’s office unveils a damning denouement with the flourish of a radio master: surreptitious recording, an artful ‘echo’ voice that draws attention to key statements and carefully scripted narration mesh tellingly to deliver the reporter’s verdict. The same care in production is evident throughout the program: beautiful sound recordings, even of the most barbarous scenes, an elegant choreography in the compilation of actuality and a narrative architecture that carries the listener through nearly an hour of complex, layered radio in one cinematographic sweep. And the program deals with one of the pressing issues of our times – the perilous flight of refugees from the continent of Africa to imagined new lives in Europe. It is no wonder Children of Sodom and Gomorrah received not just a coveted Prix Italia but, in this English language version, the Directors’ Choice Award at the Third Coast International Audio Festival.
As a feature maker myself I feel not just a concern to gauge the potential impact on listeners of specific pieces of actuality recording, or potent juxtapositions of material, but an obligation to be able to justify the intention behind their effect. In relation to Jens Jarisch’s documentary, I have felt caught between an awed admiration for the courage with which material has been gathered and then composed virtuosically into a narrative and, on the other hand, a suspicion of that same virtuosity, the storyteller’s seductive use of the tools of fiction to represent true stories. Despite the coup of his investigative reporting, Jarisch is less a journalist, in the broadly understood meaning of the role, than a surrogate who represents us listeners – a surrogate not afraid to engage his feelings, his anger and vulnerability, a man with a conscience and the skills to articulate his responses. He inhabits a sequence of scenes, encounters individuals, gathers his impressions in sound, then returns home to north Europe and assembles them with almost theatrical panache. But it can’t be assumed that the contract with the listener will be universally signed up to – that conventions, whether predictably fulfilled or meaningfully confounded, will be understood, that the grammar of the piece will necessarily be shared by all. For this listener, the apparent strengths of the production’s journalistic imperative remain entwined with a question as to its real focus, its genuine intent.
Alan Hall has been a radio producer since 1990, first with BBC and later, as an independent, establishing Falling Tree Productions as one of the world's leading radio production companies. His - and the company’s - programs have received numerous awards from the Prix Italia, Prix Europa, Third Coast Festival, Radio Academy and elsewhere. Alan has built a reputation for long-form documentaries, music features and innovative formats.
Children of Sodom and Gomorrah was originally written and produced in German by Jens Jarisch (Kinder von Sodom und Gomorrha, ARD 2009), and re-versioned as an English language production by Sharon Davis of ABC Radio National, Australia (360 Documentaries 2011). This review is of the English language version. Duration: 53’ 38”
German version here
English version here