BrandView

This story is sponsored by Freetown. Learn more about Freetown.


Inhabitants of a West African village where the flight of eight LDS missionaries from a devastating civil war was re-created, recently watched the events unfold yet again — but this time on a big screen.

The village of a few hundred people roughly two hours’ drive away from the capitol of Accra, Ghana, was the site of the second African screening of “ Freetown,” a new film by Utah director Garrett Batty, who also wrote and directed “The Saratov Approach.”

The film chronicles the harrowing but miraculous escape in July 1990 of a group of native missionaries who were serving in the Liberia Monrovia Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A civil war that ended up lasting a decade and a half and taking the lives of 250,000 people had just flared up in 1989, with “rival factions (vying) for control of the country alongside overwhelmed African peacekeeping forces,” as The Guardian reported.

Photo credit: Freetown

The missionaries had spent some time essentially trapped in their homes because of the fighting, and they felt it was vital to leave the country both for their own safety and so they could continue the work of their missions: preaching the gospel.

So together with their driver, they loaded into a five-seat car and headed north for Sierra Leone and its capitol, Freetown, “where their mission presidency had already been compelled to flee,” according to a June 2014 article in the Ensign magazine.

“Rebels were eradicating a certain tribe; I don’t think it’s a spoiler, but one of the missionaries happened to be a member of that tribe,” Batty said, “so it became less of ‘I want to teach so I’m going to risk my life’ to ‘We are going to band together and save this missionary’s life.’ They had to get that missionary out of there.”

And they did, getting past tremendous obstacles.

Photo credit: Freetown

In filming this true story with its “life-or-death stakes,” Batty said, he and the movie’s crew spent about six weeks in Ghana in the summer of 2014, including four weeks filming all over the country, from “inner Accra to outer villages.”

“We’d show up with a movie camera that was completely new to these villagers and yet they were very, very accommodating to us,” the director said. “It’s not like you get a license or permit to film in a village. You sit down and meet with the village chief, and then the chief gives you permission.”

In one village the crew spent about eight days filming, and Batty said the work was “very disruptive” to about 200 people living there, so he and his team “knew we wanted to provide them an opportunity to see the movie.”

So in early March, they returned. The movie had its premiere in a theater in Accra, but then the team went to the village. “We set up the screen and one of these massive speaker systems, and these villagers, who had never had a movie experience, got to see this,” Batty said.

Photo credit: Freetown

“They were just captivated by it. When their houses showed up, and when they themselves showed up on the screen, from when they were extras, they’d cheer. It was really a neat experience. It’s something I’ll always remember.”

While most of the people shown in the movie lived in the village, the main characters were actors from Accra, except for the actor who plays the mission president. Batty said auditions yielded “an immense amount of talent.”

As it turned out, some of the actors who were cast were even members of the LDS Church, giving them a good perspective on their characters. Batty observed: “We cast based on talent, but we came to find out that of the three companionships we had cast, one person in each companionship had happened to be members of the church, and two were returned missionaries. One was preparing to go on a mission.”

?filter=ksl/story_635" style="max-width: 100%; width: 100%; height: auto;">

Photo credit: Freetown