Sorious Samura is a journalist from Sierra Leone, currently living in London. He is introduced in his house in the grey capital, packing presents for his friends, malaria tablets and books on Africa. Viewers see framed press clippings reporting the documentarian’s fearless approach to filmmaking and journalism, but he has grown tired of focusing on the negative elements of African life. The purpose of Samura’s return to his homeland is to see his friend, Charlie Haffner, the country’s most celebrated playwright, who is writing a highly anticipated play. Haffner is director and founder of the Freetown Players, a theatre group at the heart of Sierra Leone’s expression and a celebration of its culture.
The two men are both alike and different – contrasting in their life decisions and certain views of the world, but ultimately united in their love of their country and its culture. Sing, Freetown looks back to the 1970s when the theatre scene of Sierra Leone was “thriving”. Samura describes the country as “the centre of cultural life” until the unrest of the 1970s led to prosecutions of artists. The documentary very much establishes why theatre, art and performance are of such critical importance to the lives of Sierra Leonians – not least as a source of respite against the war, corruption and natural disasters that the country faces.
The film incorporates joyful, breathtaking imagery: footage of the Freetown Players performing and rehearsing reveals the happiness they radiate, even when instructed by Haffner to smile; in a particularly tender moment, Haffner raises a glass to his mother’s grave against the sunset. However, the production does not shy away from detailing the disasters and crises of the country, showing dead bodies carried on homemade gurneys during the 2018 mudslide that claimed over a thousand lives. Samura asks the camera why there is always a tragic event in Sierra Leone – from cholera to malaria to war to natural disasters.
Sing, Freetown is a beautiful and raw documentary by Clive Patterson, who seems to simply place the camera where it needs to be, allowing his subjects to make the magic.
Sing, Freetown is released in select cinemas on 25th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sing, Freetown here: