To love one’s country isn’t to look past its shortcomings, but to do everything in one’s power to change them.
Sing, Freetown is Sorious Samura’s attempt to do just that. The multi-award-winning journalist embarks on a journey to deliver a play that will help the land of his birth reclaim its identity.
Sierra Leone’s recent past has been marred by pain, bloodshed, and corruption in the form of brutal civil wars and devastating health epidemics. But not long before it was considered to be the jewel of West Africa. Before an image appears in focus, the words “my country used to be a special nation” bellow in the background, in a tone that is somewhere in between pride and mourning.
The Clive Patterson directed documentary sees Samura reunite with his estranged mentor, Charlie Haffner (the modern day forefather of Sierra Leonean theatre) after more than twenty years apart. Unfortunately, this is far from a happy homecoming.
Whilst their goal is to create a play that showcases Freetown in a utopian light, they quickly realise that they must confront the reality that already exists; a world of shady business dealings, corruption, and political upheaval. The two men are at odds almost from the very beginning as they butt heads over everything from artistic direction to completion dates. This fiery dynamic keeps the film ticking over at moments where the pacing lags and offers some of its most transparent moments. Haffner holds no punches in telling his former student that he only makes films to satisfy the white infatuation with the African struggle. Surprisingly, there is no rebuttal.
Self-awareness is perhaps the documentary’s greatest strength. One of the most moving scenes in the documentary is of Samura sat in a car, disheartened by the play’s lack of progression (not for the first time). In a moment of desperation, he lets out an almost primal cry to the heavens, “I just want people to see this country differently”. Weathered by years of war reporting, Samura is not only on a quest to shift the perception of his homeland but also his legacy.
Never have the stakes been so high for a theatrical production. Thankfully, much like the country itself, the emotional gravity of the situation does nothing to dampen what is at its core a story of resilience and optimism.
Interspersed throughout the documentary are endearing songs celebrating the iconic moments in Sierra Leone’s history, such as the 1839 uprising on the La Amistad ship. These lush sounds are beautifully paired with stunning visuals of Sierra Leone’s picturesque mountains and clear blue oceans.
Admittedly, the unravelling of Samura and Haffner’s friendship offers little by way of closure for those in search of a happy ending. Sing, Freetown doesn’t succeed in being the fairytale it set out to be, but it doesn’t need to. The documentary achieves an even greater victory; by showing Sierra Leone to be more than mainstream media, and Samura himself have often presented to the world.
Sing, Freetown is showing at Bertha DocHouse from today for one week only. Find out more here.