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Survivor's Song

The Refugee All Stars are survivors of the brutal war in Sierra Leone, who perform for fellow ex-patriots in their new homeland of Guinea. Filmmaker Zach Niles tells me how he found this remarkable gr...

The Refugee All Stars are survivors of the brutal war in Sierra Leone, who perform for fellow ex-patriots in their new homeland of Guinea. Filmmaker Zach Niles tells me how he found this remarkable group of musicians, the subjects of his inspirational documenary.

How did you first come across the Refugee All-Stars?

Zach Niles: We actually went to West Africa with an idea about the role of music within a refugee camp setting, little knowing that we would find such a remarkable group. The last camp we visited – and the first song we heard from them, was “Living Like a Refugee – it’s not easy...” it spoke directly to their experiences.And when they said that the band was called The Refugee All Stars we were sold.

How aware were you of the horror of the war in Sierra Leone?

ZN: We had done our research, but I’m not sure you can ever be prepared for the types of stories we heard without living through it yourself.
 
How did the guys in the band react to you and the crew?

ZN: The big thing in our relationship has always been that almost the entire film crew are musicians. This musical bonding created a trust and friendship that made the whole film possible.

What challenges did you face when filming?

ZN: Well, never having made a film before – everything was a challenge. We couldn’t have done it without the help of a bunch of Aid organizations who lent us car batteries for charging, transport to a from the camps and beds to sleep on when needed. Oh yeah and military escorts when filming along the Liberian border. Like I said everything was a bit of a challenge.

What do you hope the festival audience take from the film?

ZN: I think one of the best compliments we hear is that people see the film and want to do something. If we can raise awareness and encourage not sympathy but empathy then we’ve done something good.  Of course, we also hope that the audience will be dancing in their seats and leave singing the band’s songs with a smile on their faces.

The Refugee All Stars is showing on 24 and 26 August at Cineworld.

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