Kamara documentary opens eyes

Leaving home is never an easy thing to do, but Desmond Kamara, a recent University of Lethbridge graduate (BA'10), did just that when he travelled from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Calgary, then the University of Lethbridge.

Recently, Desmond, or Dez as he prefers to be called, returned to Sierra Leone to help make a documentary film, The Kids of St. Michael's, that he believes will show the world what has been happening to the child soldiers of Sierra Leone and just how much work has been left unfinished.

Kamara, an anthropology major, will be on hand Saturday, June 12 beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Lethbridge Public Library Theatre Gallery to show the film and talk about the process of filmmaking under difficult circumstances. The event is free.

Documentary filmmaker and U of L anthropology graduate Dez Kamara.

He will put a very real perspective to the personal stories of the people he and a crew from Montreal-based Macumba International gathered.

Kamara is no stranger to documentary filmmaking. He worked with the same film crew in 2001 on a project called "Lost Childhood", also about Sierra Leone's child soldiers, their demobilization, and their reintegration into society.

At the time, Kamara was a resident of Freetown and a worker at St. Michael's rehabilitation centre. He was able to connect with the children in a meaningful way, and help the filmmakers get their real stories.

"You have to understand, most of these kids don't know anything different than war," says Kamara. "They have spent five or six years in the bush fighting, some of them even as many as 10 years, and so their minds are tainted. It's like they have been brainwashed. They need lots of counseling and skills training before they can return to society."

For Kamara, Lost Childhood was about telling the story of these children in the hopes that others would see that Sierra Leone needed help. However, he also knew that if he were going to do his part to help his home, he would have to take action for himself.

In 2004, when he and his family had saved enough money, Kamara came from Sierra Leone to Canada as a student. After spending two years at a small college in Calgary, in 2006, Kamara applied to the University of Lethbridge and started studying anthropology.

He took on a much bigger role for the second film, which he undertook as an Applied Study through anthropology and the Faculty of Arts and Science's Applied Study and Co-operative Education Dept. at the U of L.

"I am the co-director and narrator of this second documentary. The film follows me while I look for these kids to see what has changed," says Kamara.

When Kamara found out about this opportunity in 2007, he knew that he had to take advantage of it and the University community supported him.

"My professors supported me whole-heartedly. They said you have to do this because you have no idea where this experience is going to take you."

Some funding was provided by a grant Kamara received from the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group, a campus/community organization that supports international projects.

In the end, it was all about doing something that could have an impact.

"Making a film that examines how things have changed only to uncover another layer of crisis is very challenging. Especially when that crisis is happening and no one really knows about it," says Kamara.

For Dez Kamara, the most important thing that came from this experience is that he was able to give something back to his home and his community through film.

"I encourage all students that if you have a project in mind, then you must find a way to do it," he says. "You have no idea where your experiences will take you."