This year Sierra Leone launched its first international film festival. I was in Freetown to participate in the festival and meet two young filmmakers from the Media Center WeOwnTv that are invited to facilitate pocket film workshops in Denmark later this year.
Filmmakers from Freetown
The 5.676 km long trip from Denmark to Sierra Leone ends in a wild ride through Freetown, where we pass hundreds of people, small shops, children and straying dogs looking for something to eat. Through the windows of our speedy yellow taxi we watch the lively, colorful and chaotic city life. With sweaty hands, we are on our way to the first film show and meeting with Lansana Mansaray and Arthur Pratt form WeOwnTv.
WeOwnTV debuted in Sierra Leone in January 2009 by facilitating a month-long filmmaking workshop for 18 young men and women just outside of Freetown. The aspiring filmmakers came from all areas of the country: the diamond-mining district of Kono, the dusty small town of Makeni (a rebel stronghold during the war) and the hardscrabble slums of Freetown. The group included ex-combatants, former child prostitutes, street children and physically disabled individuals, all of whom showed that they had a remarkable gift to give in their creativity.
From the idea that no one is more qualified to tell stories from Sierra Leone than the Sierra Leonean themselves, WeOwnTv launched the Media Center in 2010 as a physical platform for young people to work with story telling and filmmaking.
Time to Tell Your Own Story
After our wild ride through Freetown we finally arrive at our destination: First short film series at the Festival. We enter a dark room. A projector is placed on a table and the films are shown at the rough wall. We take seat and see the film They Resisted by Arthur Pratt.
Arthur is one of the filmmakers invited to Denmark later this year. He is a charismatic man; a drama teacher, film director, youth organizer and pastor with a strong social engagement. He has written a lot of theather and film scripts and has toured throughout Sierra Leone performing original productions as well as Krio translations of Shakespeare involving street kids in his performances. He wants the Sierra Leonean youth to raise their voice and tell their story in their own way.
The film They Resisted portrays resistance against African slave traders’ sale of slaves to Europe in the 16th-19th century. Arthur explains:
“Historically, the accounts of the slave trade have not been just to many of us. They portray early Africa as a continent of people that were uncivilized and without interests of their own, incapable of protesting when treated unjustly. But we want the world to know that WE RESISTED. We believe that there were countless stories of resistance and revolt in these three centuries. They Resisted is dedicated to those untold stories.”
They Resisted won the award for best short film.
Passion for Untold Stories
The untold stories from Sierra Leone are a recurring feature in many of the films that are shown at the festival. Lansana Mansaray, the other young filmmaker invited to Denmark, tells us that there are a lot of stories about the past in Sierra Leone, about the civil war, about the corrupt government and about the everyday life of the Sierra Leonean people that never have been told. But the Sierra Leonean people need to tell, hear, discuss and share these stories with each other. To me it sounds like the filmmakers are reconstructing Sierra Leone’s history through their own analyses, story telling, images and evaluations.
Lansana’s passion for communicating local stories and the history of Sierra Leone is expressed in his extremely dedicated engagement in filmmaking, rap music and dance. Only 24 years, of age he has already written various social engaged rap songs, engaged young people in dance groups and been part of the introduction of participatory video in WeOwnTV. His hard work and dedication has brought him to Europe to do workshops on storytelling, filmmaking and rap.
The use of participatory video as a tool to create and show personal stories is reflected in many of the festival’s short films that WeOwnTv has produced. Participatory video is both a method and a conviction that everybody can use a camera to tell their stories. From this perspective interesting things can happen, and it is exactly these everyday stories that are the most interesting at the festival.
First West African Action Film
The action film State Crime is another example of showing Sierra Leonean history in a new way. The film is not just Sierra Leone’s, but West Africa’s first action film. The 3 hour long film introduces us to a real story about a soldier and puts light on a dilemma that according to Lansana never has been told in public before in such way – even if it is a very classic problem. During the civil war situations where soldiers officially served the government during the day, but unofficially fought for the rebels in the night were very common. The word sobel (a contraction of soldier and rebel) describes this bifurcated sympathy.
Even if State Crime is very long and the special effects are of poor quality, we are left full of respect for the work the filmmakers have done. It is necessary to take the conditions into consideration. First, the resources are very few. Second, it is the first action film in West Africa, which means that it also plays a role as a predecessor of its kind. The film crew has done a great work finding costumes and facilities – something we didn’t consider, when we saw the film. But lenting army costumes from the military is an extraordinary achievement. State Crime won the most prestigious award: The Salone Star 2012. The award included 10 million SLL for the next film project.
With our new insight in the challenges that the filmmakers have to deal with, our approach to the festival became more humble and respectful. The fact that the films and the whole film festival has succeeded at all is impressive. As the festival coordinator Layna Fisher says “Just to get a scissor can take two days”.
When we got to the peak of the festival: the award show that celebrates the end of the festival, but also manifests the beginning of a film industry in Sierra Leone, it is with a deep respect for the hard work of the involved who had to fight with failing electricity, bad sound systems and too many challenges, that we take our seats in the cinema and start following the award show.
Prominent personalities from the industry of culture and entertainment speak and express a renewed hope for film production in Sierra Leone. A hope they had given up. And it is difficult not to be excited about the young filmmakers dedication and willpower. There is a new energy; a group of young people that deeply wish to take part in developing and creating films in Sierra Leone for Sierra Leone, but also for an international audience. As it has been said under the award show, the young directors also have to direct their productions to an international audience, if they have any dream of living of being a filmmaker.
We leave the cinema with a feeling of having seen something that is about to begin. Or at least has the potential to be a beginning. We have great respect for the people behind WeOwnTv and Sierra Leone International Film Festival and look forward to welcoming Lansana and Arthur in Denmark in the beginning of October.
|The Author||Aya is vice chairman in RAPOLITICS and project manager on RAPOLITICS Shoot and RAPOLITICS Exaggerate. She was in Sierra Leone in April to visit SLIFF (Sierra Leone International Film Festival) and to meet the people behind WeOwnTv. Aya has a M.A. degree in psychology and Cultural Encounters.|
|The Project||RAPOLITICS Shoot is a mobile film project in partnership with Lommefilm and WeOwnTv that focus on storytelling through simple film clips. The project is part of the Danish Center for Culture and Development’s education program World Images in Motion. Arthur Pratt and Lansana Mansaray will together with Kasper from Lommefilm facilitate 9 mobile film workshops at schools and other youth institutions in Denmark from September 27th to October 5th.|
|The Country||Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa and it is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2002 a 10-year long civil war ended and left the country in ruin. More than 50.000 people died and two million people were displaced in neighboring countries. Today more than haft the population is below 18 years and looking towards a hopefully more peaceful future.|