(Reuters) - The maker of an Internet film gone viral that calls for the arrest of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony has been hospitalized in California following an “unfortunate incident” that his group and family said on Friday stemmed from the emotional toll of recent weeks.
Jason Russell, director of the 30-minute “Kony 2012” video and co-founder of the group Invisible Children, was hospitalized on Thursday for “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition,” Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey said in a statement.
“The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday,” Keesey said, without providing further details.
“Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue,” he said.
The movie Russell directed became an Internet sensation this month, racking up nearly 80 million hits on YouTube since it was posted with the aim of waking up the world to atrocities committed by the Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, including kidnapping children and forcing them to fight.
“We thought a few thousand people would see the film, but in less than a week, millions of people around the world saw it,” Russell’s wife Danica said in a statement on behalf of his family.
“While that attention was great for raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it also brought a lot of attention to Jason ... and, because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard,” she said.
She said that Russell had never had a “substance abuse or drinking problem” and that the episode in which he “did some irrational things” was brought on by “extreme exhaustion and dehydration.”
“On our end the focus remains only on his health, and protecting our family. We’ll take care of Jason, you take care of the work. The message of the film remains the same: stop at nothing,” she added.
A host of celebrities, including George Clooney, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Oprah have joined the virtual chorus of support for the cause. The company owned by powerful producer Harvey Weinstein has also contacted Russell to buy the film.
A San Diego police spokeswoman, asked about media reports that Russell had been detained, said only that a 33-year-old white man had been taken to a medical facility on Thursday morning.
“The San Diego Police Department received several calls that he was acting bizarrely, running into traffic, interfering with traffic, yelling,” San Diego Police spokeswoman Lieutenant Andra Brown said.
She said officers detained the man, who according to witnesses was in “various stages of undress,” but did not arrest him after determining that it was more appropriate to transport him to a medical facility. She declined to name him.
The phenomenal success of Russell’s video has been hailed for inspiring young people to activism, but has suffered some criticism including that it oversimplified a long-standing human rights crisis.
Russell, who narrates the video with a personal story that juxtaposes shots of his young son in San Diego, California, with the hopelessness of Ugandan children, has said the video was meant as a kick-starter to a complicated issue.
A spokesman for the San Diego area hospital where Russell was thought to have been taken could not immediately be reached for comment and it was not clear if he was there on Friday.
Editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston