Abigail Disney, filmmaker and philanthropist, to speak at WestConn

DANBURY, CONN. — Philanthropist and producer Abigail Disney will show her documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and tell the story of its filming when she presents the Steven D. Neuwirth Arts & Sciences Lecture at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8, in the Ives Concert Hall at Western Connecticut State University, 181 White St., in Danbury.

Disney, the granddaughter of Roy Disney, a cofounder of the Walt Disney Co., made the film about a group of women who helped to bring peace to war-torn Liberia.

Disney is also cofounder and copresident of the Daphne Foundation, which makes grants to grassroots organizations that work with the poor in New York City. The foundation gives out nearly $1 million a year.

The film presentation and lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in Ives Concert Hall with a showing of the film, followed by a lecture and question-and-answer period by Disney. A reception will follow in Warner Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell” documents the lives and work of a united group of Christian and Muslim women who lobbied, protested and risked their lives to force negotiations between the Liberian government and rebels, an act that eventually led to peace and democratic elections. The film has won many awards, including for best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Liberia’s troubles remain in the news, with the July arrests of four teenage boys for the alleged rape of an 8-year-old girl in Arizona. The boys are Liberian and some observers point out that soldiers on both sides of the civil war used rape as a tool to terrorize the other side. A 2004 United Nations report estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all women in Liberia were victims of sexual violence.

“I have spent many years thinking about, talking up and generally advocating for women's political leadership at all levels of the political spectrum,” Disney has written. “I haven't done this out of any cosmic sense of women’s superiority, but rather because I believe that the world has been managed by only half of its inhabitants for too long. Down to the tips of my toes I know that the addition of women’s voices to the bargaining tables, congressional chambers, courts, boardrooms and head offices of the world would enrich and strengthen the integrity of the decision-making processes in those places and therefore make the world a better, cleaner, safer and more just place. Color me crazy but that just sounds like a good plan to me.”

Disney created the Daphne Foundation in 1991.

“We have a particular interest in grassroots and emerging organizations engaging their members in the creation and implementation of long-term solutions to intractable social problems,” Disney has said. “We believe a foundation should fund in a manner that reinforces and facilitates the work of the programs it funds and that the most inventive and humane solutions to social problems often come from the people most affected by those problems.”

Disney serves on the boards of the Roy Disney Family Foundation, the White House Project, the Global Fund for Women, and the Fund for the City of New York, as well as the advisory boards of organizations that work in the areas of poverty, women’s issues, education and the environment.

In addition, Disney is vice chair of the board of Shamrock Holdings Inc., an investment company that manages more than $1.5 billion in assets.

Disney received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a master’s degree from Stanford University, and a doctorate from Columbia University. She lives in New York with her husband and their four children.

The annual lecture is named for Dr. Steven Neuwirth, a Professor of English and a specialist in Early American literature and history, who made significant contributions to academic program development in English, American Studies, the Honors Program, and academic advisement at WestConn from the 1980s until his retirement in 2003. He died in February 2004 after a long struggle with a rare bone tumor disease known as chordoma.

WestConn will offer CEUs for this event. Pre-registration is required to earn CEUs. For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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