Sierra Leoneans were able to witness the horrors of their late 1990's civil war from the safety of a cinema seat when WFP recently organised screenings of the film Blood Diamond in Freetown. Hilary Heuler attended one of the screenings and gauged audience reaction.
He knew Blood Diamond was an action film, and like any 15 year old boy, Mohammed likes action.
When the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, the Sierra Leonean teenager was there with his friends, anxiously
We hope Sierra Leoneans will look back and take pride on everything they have achieved since the end of the war
County Director Felix Gomez
awaiting his first glimpse of the film that had opened the world’s eyes to the suffering endured by his countrymen during a decade of civil war.
But these boys sat apart, propped in wheelchairs or leaning on crutches. Like many members of the audience, they had lived through the violence on-screen, and they could still feel the terrible wrath of conflict in the limbs they had lost to the rebels.
Mohammed was a young boy when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) raided his village and chopped off his right leg, a
punishment meted out to thousands of innocent civilians during the war.
Now he spends his days outside a popular Freetown restaurant in his wheelchair, begging from passers-by.
But when WFP held the first public screening of Blood Diamond in the country, Mohammed and nearly 1,000 other Sierra Leoneans poured into the halls to watch.
From May 8-10, WFP Sierra Leone organised three screenings of the film, all free to the public.
The agency worked closely with Warner Brothers to make the on-screen aid operations as realistic as possible, and the result are scenes that brought home to millions of viewers the indescribable humanitarian tragedy that defined one of West Africa’s most vicious civil wars.
Until now, the film had never been shown in the country whose bloody history it portrays, a country without real cinemas of its own. “We wanted to give the people at the very heart of the story a chance to see this film,” said County Director Felix Gomez.
“We hope Sierra Leoneans will look back and take pride on everything they have achieved since the end of the war,” he said.
This was no placid Western audience witnessing the faceless violence of far-off continents.
In Freetown, the viewers owned the story, cheering enthusiastically when the good guys won, shouting abuse at the South African mercenaries when they appeared on-screen.
As Sierra Leonean journalist Idriss Kpange told me, the movie really did show what life was like during the war. He only wished it had been shot in Sierra Leone.
For Mohammed, production details were incidental. The film made him remember the years of brutality that ripped his country apart and changed his life forever.
But as the lights came up and people began filing out of the hall, the boy in the wheelchair had a wide grin on his face. Yes, he said, it was a really good show.