Sing, Freetown: Review
Sing, Freetown: Review – This documentary follows journalist/filmmaker Sorious Samura and renowned artist Charlie Haffner as they attempt to put on a play about their home country of Sierra Leone. The pair aim to tell a story that not only speaks to the country’s tribulations and struggles resulting from the slave trade, colonialism, poverty, and corrupt politicans, but also teaches people about the culture and traditions of Sierra Leone. The goal of the project being to inspire younger generations to have pride in their country and give them hope moving forward as a nation. The film follows these men as they struggle in finding a collaborative process, have difficulty raising funds, stress about whether the show will be presentable in time, and meditate on how best to honor and represent Sierra Leone with the project.
While there have been many films that center on the process and stress of making pieces of art, a lot of these stories tend to focus on actors forgetting their lines or whether the project will be completed on time. With this film however, not only do Haffner and Samura grapple with the usual difficulties of staging a play such as cast preparedness and the pressures of running out of time and money. Additionally, both men feel the tremendous pressure of representing their country not only accurately, but with a sense of joy and respect. We follow Haffner and Samura as they meet with important tribal and cultural leaders about what traditions and stories to honor in their production. Throughout the film, Samura and Haffner speak on the fact that Sierra Leone, specifically Freetown, was at one time a vibrant cultural center for theatre and education. A reputation both men strive to restore.
As stated above, both Samura and Haffner state their intentions to put on a show that not only speaks to the hardships Sierra Leone has faced, but one that also provides a sense of hope and optimism for the future. One of the most moving sections of the film centers on Samura as he reflects on being a child in Sierra Leone and disliking how western media only focused on the violence and disease outbreaks in the country. At the same time, Samura recognizes that when he became a journalist, he too did many pieces that emphasized the suffering in Sierra Leone. Participating in this exploitative news culture appears to be in part what motivated Samura to produce this play with it’s more positive outlook. For his part, Haffner struggles throughout the film finding balance between following his artistic process, while coming up against the realities and pressures of the logistical process of putting on the play such as budgeting and sponsorship. As Samura serves as one of the main producers of the play, and somewhat represents the logistical aspect of the process, one of the focal points of the film is the building tension between the friends and collaborators as a result the creative coming up against the more business-centric aspects of the project.
Director/producer/editor/cinematographer Clive Patterson does a great job of highlighting the inner lives of the two main subjects. There are many scenes in the film where both men express their fears and frustrations regarding the play and getting it done on time, both individually and to each other. Patterson and the rest of the crew are able to put the camera and audience into these vulnerable moments without creating the feeling of an obtrusive presence. In addition, Patterson and the crew capture the beauty of Sierra Leone, with shots that emphasize the colorful artworks, vibrant coastlines, and intricate traditional garb present. If there is anything missing in the film, it is that viewers mainly stay focused on Samura’s and Haffner’s thoughts and feelings surrounding the play, whereas we only hear a couple soundbites and see a few lines of text regarding how the people of Sierra Leone received the play.
Sing, Freetown is a documentary that covers a fair amount in its 90 minute runtime, discussing themes such as the difficult nature of collaborating on and completing an artistic endeavor, the friction between people can result, and a meditating on what art can do for people. The film speaks on the hardships that Sierra Leone has endured while at the same time celebrating the beauty of the art and culture that is there as well.
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