Sing, Freetown

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sing, Freetown
"Made with plenty of upbeat vigour, the end result is a primer history lesson for newcomers to Sierra Leone that also touches on the cultural tensions that can develop even between those pulling in the same direction."

Anybody who has ever tried to mount a play from scratch will know just how much force of will is required, even in the most ideal of circumstances. Productions are a sea of moving parts, from script through to staging and front of house sponsorships, meaning the whole situation can feel like herding cats, while a steep learning curve is often demanded.

All this is something that news reporter Sorious Samura finds himself discovering as he goes along after he decides that he wants to move away from the usual depictions of his homeland of Sierra Leone as wartorn and disease ravaged and to present a more positive viewpoint of the nation's rich history and culture that has often been, at best, drowned out  and, at worst obliterated, by colonialism.

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Samura - an expat, who has lived in Britain for many years - turns to his former teacher and now good friend, Sierra Leonean Charlie Heffner, for help on the project. Heffner is a playwright who comes with a wealth of  experience, having founded the Freetong (Freetown) players more than three decades ago. What happens next is recorded by director Clive Patterson, who has been a long-time collaborator with Samura on his factual films. As you might expect from the way this documentary is set up, things don't exactly run smoothly as the play that is intended to accentuate culture inadvertently highlights the cultural clash between Samura's adopted nationality's expectations and those of his birthplace.

Time, in particular, is a relative concept, with the reporter often finding himself fobbed off over deadlines or waiting for hours for appointments, leading him to wryly suggest that the phrase in Sierra Leone shouldn't be, "Don't worry, be happy", but rather, "Don't worry, be scared". These ideas are gently probed in a television-friendly style, although Patterson doesn't shy away from using reportage footage to show the social, political and environmental difficulties the country is still encountering - at one point showing Samura getting into a heated row with a member of the nation's government. Samura also, as is more common than you might think for journalists with a lifetime of experience and a nose for news, stumbles on another 'story' along the way.Both Samura and Haffner are strong presences here, but it's a shame there wasn't a little more space given to the others involved with the production - it would have been interesting to hear more from members of the theatres company and from those helping to mount the production away from the men leading the charge.

Made with plenty of upbeat vigour, emphasised by the regular insertion of a cappella performances from the cast of the play, the end result is a primer history lesson for newcomers to Sierra Leone that also touches on the cultural tensions that can develop even between those pulling in the same direction. The whole enterprise is given heart by the durable - if tested - friendship between Samura and Haffner and their desire and belief that it is still possible to create change through artistic endeavours.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2021
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Sing, Freetown packshot
Accomplished reporter Sorious Samura collaborates with an old friend on a play intended to celebrate Sierra Leone... and gets more than he bargained for along the way.
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Director: Clive Patterson

Starring: Sorious Samura, Charlie Haffner

Year: 2021

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Doc/Fest 2021

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