(aka "The Refugee All Stars" )


directed by Zach Niles and Banker Whitre
USA 2005


Just this past Saturday (Aug 11, 2007) Sierra Leone held its first presidential election since the 10 year civil war that devastated the population ended in 2002. The peace remains tenuous and corruption and poverty are rampant in a country where the average life expectancy for a man is 38 years.

“Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars” (2005) picks up in early 2002 in a refugee camp in Guinea where displaced Sierra Leoneans have been forced to live for years. Life in the refugee camp, under the auspices of the UNHCR, isn’t pleasant, but it’s a sanctuary for its residents who were victimized both by the rebels and government forces: as the All Stars sing “When two elephants are fighting, the grass they will suffer.” Some of the stories they recount are horrifying, though none worse than Mohamed who not only saw his parents killed but was forced by rebels to beat his son to death.

It would be a stretch to call the mood in the camp hopeful, but some of the Leoneans have united to form a group called “The Refuge All Stars” with the hope of using the band as a springboard to financial success and, more importantly, as a political and social tool to inspire their fellow refugees. Reuben Koroma emerges as the most distinct personality in the band, possibly because he is also the lead singer.

After the civil war is declared to be “done done” by the president of Sierra Leone, the Refugee All Stars very cautiously return to the capital of Freetown to see what their homeland is like after so many years away, and also to cut their first studio album. Most of them are pleasantly surprised by what they find and return to the camp in Guinea to encourage their friends and family to repatriate to the homeland.

Directors Zach Niles and Banker White avoid any significant political engagement (though they do show some grim archival footage of the civil war) in favor of an uplifting portrait of the intrepid musicians. Surely the filmmakers didn’t know any better than the All Stars whether the temporary peace in Sierra Leone would last, making the attempt to film the return home quite a challenge, but Niles and White strike the right balance of optimism and ambivalence. Most of the band members decide to return to home, though Mohamed understandably holds out.

The band plays reggae with a little bit of a rap influence, which means the music isn’t quite suited to my personal taste but that’s hardly the point. There’s nothing cheap or manipulative about this inspirational story of a group of men and women who turned tragedy into music, and hopelessness into action.


Christopher Long

Theatrical Release: Nov 9, 2005 (USA)

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DVD Review: Docurama - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!

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Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 78 min

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.49 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English - Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Docurama

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Featurette: Refugee Rolling
• Deleted Scenes
• Music Moments
• About ninemillion.org

DVD Release Date: 08-14-2007
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Chapters 12




It’s getting harder and harder to tell these days, but some of the scenes have the look of a super-8 blowup (grainy and washed out) and others look like they were shot on DV. It’s a mediocre image in general, particularly in any scenes with camera movement, but I don’t think the transfer is the problem here.  

The featurette “Refugee Rolling” (19 min.) provides catches up with the All Stars after their move back to Sierra Leone. There are eight deleted scenes, each a few minutes long. A brief extra (7 min.) shows advertisements for the UNHCR sponsored refugee advocacy group Ninemillion.org.

 - Christopher Long


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