Sierra Leone is a country that still struggles to get fair representation in international media. Recent headlines have circled around the Special Court of Sierra Leone and the trial of former warlord and then President Charles Taylor. The court itself received some critical analysis recently in the form of the documentary “War Don Don.” One question that came out of that film is whether the repercussions of the court could be felt on the ground, and in every day life. What I remember most about the court from my 2006 visit to Freetown was that it was the only place in town with constant electricity.
In contrast to the ambivalence that swirls around the Special Court, I was delighted to see the film “Fambul Tok,” directed by John Caulker and Libby Hoffman, and its positive news of a grassroots reconciliation process in the country. This is a must see film for anyone interested in post-conflict healing, truth and reconciliation, or the effects on regular people of the international justice system.
War ethnographer Carolyn Nordstrom in her book A Different Kind of War Story talks about the creativity of war victims in the face of violence to rebuild and create a new future. “Fambul Tok” shows that creativity of a community to create peace in action. Victims and perpetrators sometimes from the same family reestablish ties, and work together to restore interrupted traditions and cultural norms. The process is taken up enthusiastically partly because reconciliation is already a part of the culture in Sierra Leone.
In some ways, “Fambul Tok” is part of Sierra Leone’s reconciliation with the world as images and stories of people being violated still seem to dominate global perceptions of the country. For Fambul Tok to document and share this process is almost a message of forgiveness to the world at large for barely paying attention during the war years. The two films “War Don Don” and “Fambul Tok” definitely work in conjunction to provide insightful glimpses into the society’s rebuilding process over the last 10 years. The world today could definitely learn some much needed lessons from the people of Sierra Leone.