Move over The Book of Mormon. Freetown is here to show you what it really means to be a missionary in Africa.
Evocative and genuine, Freetown is a film that tells the story of six Liberian missionaries struggling to teach the Gospel in the midst of a civil war. Determined to flee the brutality and violence, the group of missionaries enlist the help of local church leader Phillip Abubakar to travel to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they can not only live without fear, but teach freely.
While the idea of six missionaries crammed into a small car and going on a cross-country road trip sounds like the makings of a comedy, Freetown is an intense depiction of the struggle between faith and fear during a savage war. At the heart of the danger they face is Elder Gaye, a member of the Krahn, the native tribe the rebel fighters hold deep hatred for and are determined to kill. Determined to get Elder Gaye and the rest of the missionaries to safety, Abubakar faces his own trials of faith as the group makes the perilous journey.
Making a perilous journey of his own, director Garrett Batty (The Saratov Approach) spent much of their limited six week production period in the trunk of the car as the film shot on location in Ghana.
Batty’s sincere dedication to the authenticity of the story and film, along with stunning cinematography and production by Jeremy Prusso and Adam Abel, transports you to another world. From the first frame the lush and vibrant African landscape settles deep into your heart and remains throughout the rest of the film, making you feel as if this world was somehow yours, even though you spend much of your time feeling gratitude that it isn’t.
But while the filmmakers surely don’t sugarcoat the violence and brutality of the situation, the bright and clever dialogue sprinkled throughout the film resonates with the idea that choosing faith instead of fear can bring light to even the most dire circumstances. The actors, all natives, aptly handle the balancing act that is letting each character shine, something that can be difficult with seven main characters shot mostly in small vehicle. Laughter, tears, and even the desire to avert your eyes from the screen in sorrow come easily throughout the entire film.
Equally moving is the film’s score, created by Robert Allen Elliott. Combining native African music with soulful strings and stirring drums, the music is noticeable in all the right ways. The film is also masterful in its use of silence. As a group of people are pressed against a dirty wall and asked by the rebels, “Are you Krahn?” the sound of a single gunshot with each affirmative bounces straight through the heart and will echo long after the film ends.
Freetown may tell the story of a war that took place over two decades ago, but the hatred and contention between the warring tribes somehow feels relevant and symbolic in a world still embroiled in religious, cultural, and economic conflict. It is definitely a film for older audiences, and may not be suitable for younger children. Viewers should also be prepared to settle into the film; most of the action takes place in the first half, with the second half focusing on how the characters deal with the ramifications and what choices they’ll make.
Arriving in select theaters April 8, the filmmakers urge anyone interested in seeing the film to request it through Tugg, Inc., which allows the film to screen in any theater in the United States if enough interest is garnered. Simply click on this link to see which cities have already been requested or to create your own viewing.
Freetown is a raw, beautifully-crafted labor of love from Batty, Abel, and their team. Not only is the message profound, but the film entertains and offers more for your dollar than most offerings found in theaters today.
BONUS: Marcus Menti, one of the eight missionaries the film is based upon, was in attendance at the screening. It was the second time that Menti had seen the film, and after choking back emotion and taking a breath, he humbly said it was just as hard to sit through as the first time. To hear the true severity of some of the situations made the film all the more powerful.