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First-timer Raouf Jacob returns to his native Sierra Leone in A Culture of Silence, a well-meaning but amateurish attempt to address “the human condition” in a country plagued by war and other ills. The film tackles a trio of hot topics that have received a good deal of media exposure as if it were introducing them to us for the first time; countless other sources tell these stories with both more educational and emotional impact.
Jacob never offers any background that would explain what qualifies him to be our guide here (he at one point admits he’s not a journalist), and we soon deduce we’re watching one of those docs in which the filmmaker decides the mere fact that he once lived in an interesting place means he should make a movie about it.
Still, he earnestly seeks access to the right people and places: He tries to weasel his way into land controlled by mining giant Koidu Holdings when discussing the dark sides of the diamond trade; he follows former child soldier Kabba Williams when recounting the attempts of the “Lost Boys” generation to reenter society; he goes to speeches where activist Rugiatu Neneh Turay rallies women who oppose female genital mutilation.
Jacob makes a point of looking for reasons to be optimistic about the country’s future (cue cliched shots of smiling children running through streets), but his ponderous narration belies that hope: He reaches so strenuously for verbal gravitas he often sounds like he’s imitating Christian Bale‘s Batman, and overwrought music by Samuel Thoronka follows suit. Some interviews describe experiences so wrenching the audience cannot help but be moved, but Jacob’s skills as a writer and filmmaker can’t do the material justice.
Production company: Worldwide Cinema Frames
Director-Screenwriter-Editor: Raouf J. Jacob
Producers: Lara M. Moreno, Raouf J. Jacob
Music: Samuel Thoronka
No rating, 107 minutes
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