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They came with guns blazing, overrunning villages, towns and cities. They claimed to be freedom fighters, promising to liberate the people from the shackles of dictatorship to usher in a new polity of freedom. But, no sooner had dusk fell on their promise, the dawn was befouled by the macabre mayhem of murder, maiming, rape, pillaging and looting they unleashed upon the people.

If the Liberian Civil War could be adduced in a literary thematic synopsis, the paragraph above would certainly be a fitting one. And, if there is any filmmaker who has gone to lengths to comprehensively, and even, audaciously, flesh out that synopsis into a riveting cinematic portrayal, the lot will most certainly fall on William Dream Debo because of his latest movie, Freedom, which was shot in Liberia.

Comprehensively, because Debo has used his remarkable cinematic talent to create a poignantly panoramic film that captures the breadth of atrocities people were subjected to during the Liberian Civil War. Audaciously, because since the war ended in 2003, the warlords and other major players in the war have assumed positions of power, so Debo had to negotiate a minefield as he tried to, nonetheless, paint a realistic picture of what transpired during the war, while at the same time, refraining from portraying any real life characters.

“…Freedom is a movie about our experiences as Liberians, and I made it because I felt that we as a people needed something that will serve as a sober reflection so that we can be reminded that war is absolutely not the answer to any of our problems.”Dream Debo, Liberian film director and producer

Once Upon A Time In Liberia: They Came To Steal, Kill And Destroy

“When I was making Freedom, I was cautious because I did not want to offend anyone. You know we still have some of the warlords in our midst and I didn’t want to do a story that necessarily pointed to the actions of any one warlord in particular. So, I decided to therefore do a story that fully depicted some of what transpired during the war, but I changed some of the storylines and dialogues to avoid incriminating any one warlord or personality,” said Debo.

But, that self-censorship notwithstanding, Freedom is not only a trailblazing movie because of its prodigious attempt to present a well-rounded portrayal of the experiences of Liberians during the Liberian Civil War, but, even more, it is a story told through the lenses of not just any filmmaker, but one who was an eyewitness.

“I was here from the start of the war until it ended. I never went anywhere so I know exactly what happened. And, I felt that as a filmmaker, I could offer more in creating a movie that actually tells the real story of the Liberian Civil War,” added Debo.

With his firsthand experience of the Liberian Civil War, and having developed his skills as a filmmaker over the years with close to 17 movies to his credit, Debo said he felt a sense of duty to tell a more comprehensive story of the Liberian Civil War, especially after watching Johnny Mad Dog, a 2008 movie made by French director, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, about a group of drug-induced and trigger-happy child soldiers as they fought their way to capture Monrovia, the capital city.

“I thought about doing Freedom after watching Johnny Mad Dog because I felt that it fell short in its depiction of the Liberian Civil War. For example, there were people who

ran away from their homes to seek refuge in various places and fighters went there and massacred them, but I didn’t see that depicted in Johnny Mad Dog. And, what about people who ran into the bushes trying to cross swamps, lakes and rivers and they couldn’t swim and they died? I did not see that in Johnny Mad Dog. What about people who were thrown out of their houses because a family member was accused of working for the government and the whole family was killed? I didn’t see that in Johnny Mad Dog. As a filmmaker, I felt I could do something better than that. So, I went to my drawing board and wrote the script for Freedom and I included all of those real things that happened during the war,” said Debo, who has been putting in tremendous work to uplift Liberia’s fledging film industry.

Spreading A Sober Message That War Is Never The Answer

And, more than just using the reels of his film to tell the broader story of what transpired during Liberia’s Civil War, which has been described as one of the most brutal civil conflicts in recent memory, Debo hopes that his movie will also serve as a sober reflection for his nation.

“In essence, Freedom is a movie about our experiences as Liberians, and I made it because I felt that we as a people needed something that will serve as a sober reflection so that we can be reminded that war is absolutely not the answer to any of our problems. And, my hope is that this message will resonate especially with the younger generations of Liberians who did not experience the civil war,” he added.

In a war-addled nation like Liberia, where cleavages still run deep and the embers of war are still being extinguished even after over a decade of peace, it

can only be hoped that the ripples of Debo’s film will reach a wide audience so that its noble message can indeed resonate not just to Liberians but people everywhere who might be tempted to consider war as an option to resolve national issues.

And, in that vein, Debo, who is the founder and CEO of Platinum Entertainment Production, a legally registered entertainment company in Liberia, is seeking partnerships with all interested and capable persons to help distribute his movie to a worldwide audience. To get in touch with Debo to discuss the possibility of partnering with him to distribute Freedom, you may reach him at (+231)-770-215-981.

You can also find out more about Debo’s other film projects and his contributions to develop Liberia’s fledging film industry by following him on Facebook.

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