Sing, Freetown is a captivating look at two men trying to reclaim the identity of their country and show generations, young and old, the importance of their culture. A very personal documentary that racks up the tension to the hopeful opening night.
Raised in Sierra Leone and now a Londoner, Sorious Samura is one of his nation’s most celebrated TV journalists. However, two decades of telling negative stories about Africa has taken its toll. Desperate to change the narrative, he turns to his best friend and mentor, Charlie Haffner, a playwright from Sierra Leone. Together, these two friends embark on a journey to create an inspiring work of national theatre, hoping to restore pride to a nation that remains one of the world’s poorest countries despite having an amazing history.
Sing, Freetown feels like it could have been a run of the mill documentary of people trying to do something to help and bring together their country. However, it is so much more than that as it becomes a struggle of culture and tradition, with the importance of trying to change how a corrupt country can grow to be more. A story of two men trying to overcome personal and political challenges in doing something good for the masses makes this a compelling piece. We feel for both men throughout, and while they have moments in which they clash, we know they only want to see progress.
The daunting task that Samura has presented himself with to create this magnificent story for young audiences to be influenced by cannot be overstated. He shows the pain Sierra Leone has gone through, and while he doesn’t live there anymore, he has an infinity for his homeland. He just wants to see positives, see his people begin to rise, and show the world how great Sierra Leone is Leone can be.
Throughout all of the struggles though, Samura left Africa and began to be a reporter. There still leaves a mark with some people who remained as he become successful off the back of the dire state of affairs on his continent. A tragic confrontation with the Deputy Minister of Health after a horrific mudslide showcases this perfectly as they bitterly yell at one another. They know who he is and lack trust in him, so naturally you sense that they are wary of his intentions regarding the play. This is where Sing, Freetown shows how it is wearing its heart on its sleeve. We see the emotions from both sides, the frustrations and anger, as Samura and Hoffman attempt to create a play in a country that has next to no actual theatres to host it in.
The discussions as the duo go across the country raise interesting points. Some do not want to talk about the war or corruption. They want to talk about the culture of Sierra Leone. Additionally, a leader feels strongly about losing the traditions of their country as their world begins to be more centred on Western ideals. The theme of lost traditions is one of the stronger themes in the documentary as we see Samura and Haffner try to show the younger generations the importance of where they have come from and the strength of those great people, such as Sengbe Pieh. You sense the importance of the two men’s ambition as the strain begins to take its toll.
Throughout Sing Freetown, we see the minor differences between the West and Africa, we obviously know the poverty, corruption and other issues Africa has, but it is the little things that are embedded within the culture that gets highlighted. One such issue of timekeeping continually raises its head, be it Samura waiting on Hoffman to finish writing the play, simply waiting for hours for the delivery man who has the tickets to turn up. He rants and raves as all of his frustrations pour out of him as the stress of getting this play performed weighs him down. Yet by doing that, he is proving to those who remain that they are right. He has taken what he deems are positives from the West and wants Africa to take on the same traits. Small things like this assist in creating a bigger picture of what Samura wants for Africa.
This leads us into a fantastic character study of two men who now lead dramatically different lives yet have the same aim for their country. Samura is the frustrated ex-pat who wants to assist with giving his country and continent the kickstart he feels it desperately needs. Then we have the wonderful Charlie Haffner, an enigmatic man who was once a creative force in the country but had been struggling with his output lately. Here we see two men who at times butt heads but have good intentions in their hearts and a love for a country that needs them.
When stripping away the internal politics of Sierra Leone and Sing, Freetown, there is an excellent sub-plot of a producer with a vision and his difficulties of getting his writer-director to play ball. Pressure builds on the two as they promise a start date; they try and fund the production costs that go disastrously. All the while, Charlie is struggling, and until their heart to heart, we never fully understand why he is this way.
Although their back and forths are not the film’s central themes, their relationship is key to its success. When the pressures of the play get to Charlie, he informs Sorious that God was mistaken in sending him to Charlie. It is heartbreaking to see such a talented man struggle so much. So as the documentary progresses, we are rooting not only for it all to work out for the country; we genuinely want it to for Charlie. He needs that win, something to help invigorate him to begin writing again.
Throughout, you become as exhausted as the two men as they fight to get that play to opening night. You feel all of their emotions, the original hope of what this play could do, to the tension in the hurdles they encounter as their country goes from one crisis to another. Sing, Freetown that has you from the start, and with Directors Clive Patterson’s patient and pulled back approach to filmmaking, we are fascinated. An imperative watch that highlights the struggles of those on different continents than our own.
To catch more of our reviews throughout Sheff Doc Fest 2021, Have a look below:
Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
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