WeOwnTV, 2009 - present
Collaborative media project
WeOwnTV is a collaborative media project project launched in 2009 by the filmmakers of the award-winning documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The work presented tells a story about survival, hope and the transformative role that art and creativity can play in the rehabilitation of war affected individuals. In 2009, Banker White and a small North American filmmaking team created a digital storytelling and media production training workshop in Sierra Leone together with local pastor and playwright Arthur Pratt, under the name WeOwnTV (“WeOwnTV” roughly translates in Sierra Leonean Krio as “Our Own TV.”). The goal of this project was to assist in giving a voice to this generation of Sierra Leoneans whose childhood was cut cruelly short by war. Many participants are orphans, ex-combatants or former child prostitutes who are also powerful orators. The results are powerful. Their work is raw and righteous. They are helping rebuild a national and cultural identity that is necessary to support their country’s fragile new peace and democracy. Our guiding principal has been that no one is more qualified to tell Sierra Leone’s story more than Sierra Leoneans themselves.
Sierra Leone is still recovering from an intense 10-year civil war (1991-2002) that was marked by extreme violence against civilians, struggle for control of the country’s diamond mines, and forced recruitment of child soldiers. The war claimed more than 50,000 civilian lives, and the number of persons raped, mutilated or tortured is much higher. Women and girls suffered uniquely and children were singled out for unconscionable abuses. An entire generation of young Sierra Leoneans has grown up under a cloud of war and violence.
WeOwnTV's main Sierra Leonean collaborator is Arthur Pratt, a local pastor who works with street kids in the capital city of Freetown. Arthur is a fascinating, charismatic and passionate individual who has lived many lives in his 33 years. In his twenties he became more politically active and found himself on both sides of the rebel war. As he grappled with this external conflict, his own internal conflicts arose and in his own words, “he lost his way.” Out of despair he returned to the church and “gave himself completely to God.” Soon after, he began work with war affected youth in the Freetown area. He has run a community theatre group for the last eight years and has collaboratively written and performed numerous plays with ex-combatants and former child prostitutes. He describes the important function that the development of the group and its resulting unity serves within the community: “The first thing you learn in African theatre is love. You feel that you belong and that you have somewhere that you belong to.”
The work they are doing is also more than just personally transformative. Sierra Leone is very much at the beginning stages of developing a healthy, independent culture of media production. Currently, it has only two television stations. They each produce a news program and air a few in studio talk shows; however, the majority of their programming in re-broadcasted from productions abroad. Their work is beginning to give a voice to this generation of Sierra Leoneans. By combining storytelling with media technology, not only are the stories of theirs and past generations being told and preserved, but they are also able to share these stories beyond their borders with the hope of new opportunities for their creative selves their country, and ultimately all of which benefit a world seeking peaceful future.
Let's Talk of a System
May 19 - July 3, 2010
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
Photo credit: Scott Chernis