When his "KONY 2012" video exposing the atrocities of African warlord Joseph Kony went viral, filmmaker Jason Russell realized a dream 10 years in the making. But it only took 10 minutes for his life to publicly unravel.
In March, "KONY 2012" became the most viral video in history, viewed more than 100 million times in less than six days. However, in the midst of the crush of publicity for the campaign, Russell was captured on a video posted to TMZ in which he is seen naked on a San Diego street corner, pacing and screaming. His doctors determined that he had suffered a psychotic break, which he discussed with Jenna Bush Hager on a segment that aired on TODAY Monday.
“My mind couldn't stop thinking about the future,’’ Russell said. “I literally thought I was responsible for the future of humanity. It started to go into a point where my mind finally turned against me and there was a moment where, click, I was not in control of my mind or my body.’’
Russell had been flying around the country doing interviews about the campaign to stop Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been accused of atrocities against children in Uganda. The filmmaker faced scrutiny when it was reported that thousands of action kits ordered from Invisible Children, the group behind “KONY 2012,’’ went unfilled and the charity’s website crashed.
“It was so chaotic,’’ Russell said. “I mean, it was so exciting because it felt like the world was for us. And then at the same time it was heartbreaking and felt almost like a nightmare, because it felt like the world was against us."
Russell first got the idea to start the campaign 10 years ago when he met Jacob Acaye, a 12-year-old Ugandan boy who had been abducted by the LRA and watched as they killed his brother. Acaye, now 22 and studying to become a lawyer, became distraught when he saw Russell’s episode in San Diego. Acaye wondered if Russell had sacrificed too much of his life to helping him and the children of Uganda at the expense of his mental health.
“I saw myself being the cause of everything that was going on in his life,’’ Acaye told Hager. “I was like asking myself, what if I had not met him? What if I had not told him my story?"
Russell withdrew from the public eye for a period as he tried to recover.
“I mean, it's hard for my wife to even talk about it still, because it was so scary and traumatizing,’’ Russell said. “It’s just been really spending time with my family. A lot of slowing down. You know, yoga. Therapy. And it's been really healing for the mind, body, soul."
Russell and Invisible Children have just released a new Kony-related video titled “Move,’’ which issues an appeal to supporters to march in Washington on Nov. 17 to demand that Kony be brought to justice.
“I don't think anything can compete with the perfect storm of Kony 2012, but we do hope that millions of people do see this next film and know that we are still committed,’’ Russell said.