Community Crimes – a peek into the Sierra Leone movie industry

Robert Pijpers: social anthropologist and movie star in the making..?

George! Aminata! AJ! Mr. Jalloh! Aisatu! Stella! Robert! Zaki! Joshua!

A group of people is standing in a big circle at a school compound in Lunsar. Names are shouted after which the one who shouts runs towards the one who´s name is shouted. Across the circle everybody runs until someone makes a mistake. This is the cast for ´Community Crimes´, a film produced by Kings & Queens Movies, a Sierra Leonean movie production company. But what is that white university researcher doing amongst the cast? What am I doing there?

Robert Pijpers a.k.a. Alexo(Photo: Robert Pijpers)

A few weeks ago I was standing in front of the residence of the Paramount Chief of Marampa Chiefdom. I had arranged an interview with him to speak about chiefdom history, contemporary developments in his chiefdom, about local and national politics, social and economic changes in Lunsar, the mining industry and the role of land in society. When I arrived I met him at the point of departure. A serious issue had come up for which his presence was requested immediately. It appeared that he was called into a meeting to discuss the allocation of a piece of land to a village as part of a London Mining compensation scheme. Slightly disappointed I was about to leave when a guy approached me: ´How are you?´ `I´m fine, and you?´ I waited for the thing he obviously wanted to discuss with me. He then explained that he was the director of a movie production group called Kings and Queens Movies. They had recently made a movie called ´My fathers´ wives´ and for their new movie they were looking for a white man. I happened to be white and he asked whether I was interested in acting. This was not what I expected. He promised to send me the script so that I could have a look at it. That afternoon I received the script and there I was: Alexo.

And so I found myself shouting names and running around a school field with a group of actors and actors-to-be. A variety of people showed up, some being secondary school students, workers, university students and jobseekers. Some people didn´t have a role in the movie, but they wanted to gain some experience in acting or family and friends just took them along.

The rehearsals in the half dark of the evening hours were interesting, but of course the actual shooting was a highlight for the actors; all of us came well prepared to make the best out of it. Unfortunately, the shooting was delayed for a couple of days because one of the producers had a sudden death in the family and later on it appeared that the man who owned the cameras had to record a marriage, but eventually we got started on a Saturday afternoon. Although this was a no-budget production, everybody approached it highly serious and within the available possibilities we really tried to be as professional as possible. ´Make-uppers´ came to prepare the actors, costumes were selected and locations sought for. Those we were able put in some money for breakfast and lunch, for water during the shooting, or to have some beers and soft drinks on the tables during the nightclub scenes. This is actually an interesting fact, because it relates the establishment of film/acting groups here to Lunsar´s rapid development and to the increased amount of opportunities people have around here. Due to the area´s accelerated growth and to the growing number of people that are employed, more and more people have access to money and therefore activities like this can be funded. Without that, ventures like this would be even more difficult to undertake.

Having some freestyle fun with the Group (Photo: Robert Pijpers)

The days were long, with a lot of walking from location to location, but rewarding. The group attracted quite a lot of attention and when shooting on location it was sometimes a challenge to keep spectators out of sight, or to prevent them from cheering, laughing or making comments on the scenes. Especially the scenes that involved murder, and therefore quite some screaming and shouting, were of great interest to people. In general, ´African movies´ are extremely popular here and in the evenings, when generators are turned on, one can see people watching these movies on televisions placed outside or on portable dvd-players. Nigeria was one of the first Sub-Saharan Africa countries to establish a successful industry called Nollywood, named after the famous industries Hollywood and Bollywood. Ghana soon followed and also filmmakers in Sierra Leone are trying to produce movies (sometimes called Sollywood, which actually created some tensions with the South African movie industry). Despite low budgets, people in the film industry here see these movies as an opportunity to tell a (moralistic) story, of course as a business opportunity, as well as they feel that they are the most appropriate to tell their own stories.

Obviously, when the shooting of such popular movies happens to be on your doorstep, you wouldn´t like to miss a thing. And the same for me, this was a great and interesting experience as well!

Besides this being a joyful and perhaps a once in a lifetime experience, the film obviously tells a lot about daily struggles in the communities. Theft, drugs dealing and abuse and corruption are just a few of the issues discussed in the movie. Some of these issues I also encounter during my fieldwork and they will in a certain form be dealt with in my dissertation.

Some people might see this film and realize that what they are doing in the dark is played here in broad daylight. -Director K&Q Movies

Preparing for action! (Photo: Robert Pijpers)

When I asked the director about his reasons for making this movie he explained that they don´t always want to make movies just for entertainment, but also movies that teach people something. All the things they play, he said, are things that happen in reality. These community crimes might be small crimes, and maybe overlooked in policy-making circles, but they are important. Some people might see this film and realize that what they are doing in the dark is played here in broad daylight. They will realize that some people know about their crimes. In many cases, the director continued, people hide behind the argument of poverty, blaming poverty for crimes they commit or for the wrongs they are doing. This, he thinks, is not right and somebody should address that. They are doing that through their movies. But of course it´s also business, although they are completely self funded and on a very low budget, their plan is to grow and eventually become a profitable company that produces films that are entertaining as well as providing a moral critique on society. Well, this film definitely provides that critique and according to several outsiders, such as the externally hired cameraman, the film even has the potential to be internationally successful.

Five days and nights of shooting eventually resulted in a lot of material that is now waiting to be edited by the production director and some video-editors. I´m definitely looking forward to see the final product and to seeing people´s reactions to the movie when it is released. For now, I am heading back to my investments and land issues and will undertake a new effort to meet the Paramount Chief.

By Robert Pijpers
Published May 6, 2014 9:05 AM - Last modified May 12, 2014 2:15 PM
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