Judge Dylan Charles admires the musical ambassadors in this DVD.
In 1991, civil war broke out in Sierra Leone. Over the next 11 years, thousands of refugees fled the country into Guinea to escape the atrocities that took place at the hands of both the rebels and the government.
The members of the Refugee All Stars were among those who left, taking up residence in one of the many U.N. sanctioned camps that dotted the country. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars follows the band as they tour through Guinea and goes along with them on their eventual return to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
When a conflict like the one in Sierra Leone is rendered down to the base statistics (50,000 dead by the war's end) and bare facts (the rebels liked to amputate the hands of their enemies and anyone they happened to come across), it can become numbing. Easier to digest and then file away. But Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars shows you a group of men and women who faced terrible things. Zach Niles and Banker White, the directors of the movie, have focused on the stories of the band members: Reuben, Grace, Franco, Black Nature, Arahim, and Mohamed. Arahim and Mohamed have each lost a hand, Black Nature has lost his parents, and all of them have lost their homes. They retain terrible scars, both physical and mental. The movie puts faces to the people who actually suffered from those atrocities.
What makes it so powerful, what makes it such a good movie, is the band's ability to rise above what happened to them. They use their music to not only raise their own spirits, but they use it bring happiness to those around them as well. They talk about how there was little joy to be found in the camps and how they wanted their music to provide just a little light in a terrible situation. After the war's end, they then use their music to call back the people, so they may repatriate to Sierra Leone.
By focusing so tightly on a small group of people, by letting this small group tell its stories in such an intimate way, Niles and White have given a face to the civil war in Sierra Leone that the audience can identify with. The directors never speak and they never appear on camera; they simply let the Refugee All Stars tell their stories while onscreen text gives us the context.
The documentary ends in 2002, but in 2006 the Refugee All Stars were given the chance to come to America to perform; this is where the featurette "Refugee Rolling" picks up. It's a short 20-minute segment that lets us know what the band has been up to over the past four years and is a worthy epilogue to the main feature. There are deleted scenes as well. These scenes describe life in the refugee camps, offer more details about the band members and give more information about the conflict. Along with the deleted scenes, there are more scenes of the Refugee All Stars performing.
The last extra is a featurette about ninemillion.org, a way to help the more than nine million children refugees throughout the world.
If you'll check the Accomplices section of the review you can find more information about the band itself (and maybe buy the CD if you're interested) as well as a link to Nine Million's site. Also, my information on the war and Sierra Leone came from the BBC's Web site or the documentary itself.
The Refugee All Stars truly are, as they say, ambassadors: people who have
suffered but who use their music to spread messages of peace rather than of
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Scales of Justice
• Featurette: Refugee Rolling
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