Sing Freetown follows Emmy-winning filmmaker Sorious Samura from Sierra Leone, who has an ambition to bring theatre back, with a positive, inspirational narrative. A national story to offer hope to the people. He's tired of hearing negative stories about Africa and about the damaging legacy of colonial rule. He gets in touch with his ex-teacher, mentor and best friend, Sierra Leone's most famous playwright, Charlie Haffner. The plan is to create an epic work of national theatre to take to the world, and to bring back the theatre scene of old that never returned after the government clamped down on the arts and artists were persecuted. However, things don't necessarily go as planned.
The documentary starts off with an appreciation of the great riches that exists in its great nation; diamonds, gold, lost plant life, the sea, and the beauty that had it pegged as the Athens of West Africa. Its shores were known as the Province of Freedom when slavery was abolished and freed slaves returned from incarceration to reclaim their lives. It seems this history has been long forgotten - of strong leaders proud of their heritage. Civil war, corruption and Ebola have taken its toll, destroying the country. In collaboration with Charlie, Sorious wanted the people to find their way back from the brink in the only way they knew how, with a story.
It's a joy to watch this documentary which has a good share of great cinematography that highlights its beauty, as well as its ugly side. Sorious laments about the nation wanting to be more like the westerners, rather than find out more about its history and being proud of its heritage. As an international man as he was called by Charlie, he finds his mindset at odds with the way the people operate in Sierra Leone, and in frustration lashes out it's part of the reason why the country is in the state it is in.
Working with Charlie was a test of his patience and understanding, and worse, a threat to their friendship. Each one operating on different times - shall we say, Western time and African time. The documentary manages to pass on all this angst and anxiety to its viewers, and I wouldn't be surprised if you felt like tearing through the screen to have a hissy fit. It's an interesting set of dynamics that unfolds, but at its heart, the desire for change. By the end of it, there is doubt as to whether change was inspired or if friendships truly remained intact.
For many other thought-provoking, interesting documentaries, check out the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival's website.