dirs. Banker White & Zach Niles | 78 minutes | 2005 | documentary
The plight of the refugee in today’s war-torn world is captured in the African proverb, “When two elephants are fighting, the grass will suffer.” So it was in Sierra Leone from 1991-2002, where the government and various rebel factions carried out a brutal civil war in which the terrorizing of civilians — by killing, mutilation, rape, and forced conscription — was common practice on all sides. The war sent hundreds of thousands of ordinary Sierra Leoneans fleeing to refugee camps in the neighboring West African nation of the Republic of Guinea. That’s where the remarkable documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars begins.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are a band of six Sierra Leonean musicians who came together to form a band while living in a refugee camp in Guinea. Many of their family and friends were murdered in the war, leaving each of them with physical and emotional scars that may never heal. Despite the unimaginable horrors of civil war, they were saved and brought hope and happiness to their fellow refugees through their music.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars chronicles the band over three years, from Guinean refugee camps back to war-ravaged Sierra Leone, where they realize the dream of recording their first studio album. And so begins a musical phenomenon that is making the world hear the voices of West Africa’s refugees – through the film Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have been able to launch an international musical career, while drawing the accolades of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube (one of the executive producers of the film), and Joe Perry.
Through their unflinching spirit, their powerful stories of survival and their joyful music Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars celebrate the best that is in all of us. As violent conflicts multiply around the globe and the worldwide refugee crisis deepens, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars is a humanizing ode to all the innocent survivors of war whose brutal realities are often dismissed by surface mass media sound bytes.
Praise for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars:
“…big and rich and complex itself, all while matching the optimism of its subjects. Personal, political, generous, and skillfully edited amid the pitfalls of melding performance footage, interviews, and archival context, it bursts off the screen with the same brilliance and intensity that the band does onstage.” – Austin Chronicle
“Niles and White paint a vivid, unflinching portrait of life in the refugee camps, but they don’t dwell on the horrors of the war. Their film is about the healing power of music.” – San Francisco Chronicle
“…the film earns its crowd-pleasing reputation thanks to the thoughtful honesty of the interview subjects and the contagious warmth and directness of their music.” – The Globe and Mail, Toronto