An inspiring documentary from rapper Ice Cube's production company, "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" tracks a group of six musicians who came together to form a musical group after they were forced to leave their home in Sierra Leone, which was devastated by tragic civil warfare from 1991 to 2002. Millions of people fled to other countries to escape the decade-long war.
The band, co-founded by Reuben M. Koroma and Francis John Langba, came together to make some passionate, heartfelt reggae music, often dealing with the struggles of their people. The band members themselves faced horrors during the war, as a couple of them have lost a hand from run-ins with rebels and others have lost family members.
The documentary was filmed in 2002, as the band toured various refugee sites, performing for those residing there and trying to live their spirits and deliver a positive message of hope and change for the better (as well as to encourage the people of the area to persue activities like music.) The performances are leading up to what the band hopes will be their eventual return to Sierra Leone.
Tight and focused at about 80 minutes (around 75 + credits), "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" manages to do a few things and do them really well in a short period of time. The documentary devotes a portion of the time to the music of the band, which is beautiful and moving. We also get a short time with each of the band members, who recount their emotional tales of their experiences during the war time - both their tragedies and the feeling of being tired of constantly being uprooted (one member talks about living at 5 different camps.) Finally, we get a saddening view of the turmoil this country has gone through in recent years and how there are some positive signs for the future.
Overall, the film remains a highly enjoyable portrait of musicians using their art form to bring a message of peace to their country (and, as we see in the supplemental features, elsewhere across the globe.
VIDEO: Sierra Leone" is presented by Docurama in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is generally very good, and one has to take into consideration that the film was made on a fairly low budget. Sharpness and detail do vary, but the picture at worst looks just a bit hazy and generally looks crisp and detailed. Some minor-to-mild grain is present in the image at times, but this appears to be an intentional element of the filming. Otherwise, no pixelation, print flaws or other concerns were spotted. Colors appeared warm and natural, with no smearing or other problems.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was a fairly low-key affair, but presented the music crisply and clearly across the front speakers, with some minimal reinforcement from the surrounds. Audio quality was fine, as the music sounded natural and fairly well-recorded, as if one was in the room.
EXTRAS: "Refugee Rolling" is the main extra, running a little over 20 minutes. This short film follows the band as they make preparations for their first trip to perform in America. The filmmakers assist the band in getting to the US and the band members are thrilled to be able to make the trip to perform (they play in front of a larger crowd at the South by Southwest Festival.) Audiences are even more responsive than expected, and the tour is a success, both in terms of promoting the music and the messages of peace. After their first tour, they find themselves with a recording contract and a high-profile tour throughout the US and elsewhere around the globe.
The DVD also offers 8 deleted scenes (while a couple of scenes seem unnecessary and the movie is tight as-is, other scenes provide more details about the crisis in Sierra Leone or the band member's pasts. We also get the musical moments able to be viewed on their own and a featurette about ninemillion.org, the UNHCR campaign to help some of the nine million refugee children living in camps throughout the world.
Final Thoughts: "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" is a wonderful, uplifting portrait of a group of musicians using music to try and bring joy and a moment of peace to those who've gone through great tragedy. The DVD offers excellent audio/video quality and a few nice (if minor) supplements.