My name is Arthur Pratt and I am a Sierra Leonean. I am also a pastor, a filmmaker, a husband and a father. During the Ebola outbreak that started in 2014, my country, received international press attention because healthcare workers from both Europe and the United States contracted the disease in Sierra Leone and later were diagnosed in their home countries. This attention, however, failed to paint a complete picture of how my people were affected by the disease. The role that locals played in combating the outbreak was grossly underreported, and preoccupation with the foreign experience created even more distance from our own experience. Reporting tended to replicate the damaging idea that Sierra Leone is singularly defined by tragedy and that the country responded to Ebola with ignorance and fear. That misunderstanding went a long way in defining how the world views who we are as modern Africans. The issue of trust is at the foundation of any collaboration, and lessons were learned from our attempt to keep up with the pace of the outbreak. Local communities lost trust in their governments and international aid workers, who often lacked understanding of the communities they were trying to serve. This severely impacted the effectiveness of early public health campaigns, training efforts and collaborative working environments.
Survivors shares a different story. It shows Sierra Leoneans exhibiting a powerful spirit of volunteerism despite their difficult circumstances. It shows a population deeply engaged in political discourse and, despite frustrations, desperately trying to help its country progress. We want the world to see and feel what the Ebola outbreak was like from the perspective of Sierra Leoneans. We want the film to raise critical questions facing the increasingly intertwined global community. What does it mean to be an ethical human being? How do we understand family and community? What is the value of a human life and is it equal across cultures and classes? How does history play into the way these events unfold? Our film is intended not just to show the world what happened in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak and how we survived it, but also to bring our own perspective to an issue that will have the ability to define us and our country for a long, long time. I am very proud of how this film was made. I am thankful for all the contributions from the filmmakers at our film collaborative at the WeOwnTV Freetown Media Center and for the support and guidance from our team in the United States. May this film stand as an example of a positive collaboration based on mutual trust and respect between all members.
-- Arthur Pratt, Director
Production Team Backstory (from co-director/producer Banker White):
Survivors is the result of a collaboration more than a decade in the making. Following the release of my first film Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars (POV 2007), I was awarded a Creative Capital grant to develop WeOwnTV, a collaborative media education project that promoted self-expression as a way to explore our shared humanity and bridge cultural divides. In 2010, I returned to Sierra Leone and co-founded the WeOwnTV Freetown Media Center with Sierra Leonean filmmakers (and Survivors co-directors) Arthur Pratt and Barmmy Boy. This brick-and-mortar media center was created with the goal of supporting individual artists and journalists as part of a larger effort to help grow the media sector as a whole. Today, after almost a decade of collaboration, the Media Center has grown into a vibrant professional collective that houses some of the most respected and sought after media-makers in the country.
This collaboration took on new meaning in the context of the Ebola outbreak, which struck in 2014. Since the earliest days of the outbreak, WeOwnTV supported the production of educational materials that rapidly disseminated life-saving, culturally sensitive information at a critical time. These films were quickly identified by healthcare professionals in the region as being extremely effective in getting the messages out in a way local communities could relate to. Here are some reports about their efforts covered on BBC Newshour and The Daily Beast that praise our efforts.
In addition to producing this educational content, the team at the Freetown Media Center was uniquely positioned to report on the outbreak from the inside. The Sierra Leonean team began working as freelancers for many major news organizations and the U.S. team began finding partners such as the Sundance Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bertha Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, DocSociety and ITVS among others to support the production of the independent feature Survivors. Led by director Arthur Pratt, the team intimately documented the experience of those on the front lines of the outbreak. As a part of our educational outreach with the film, we are also working together with the team at the Freetown Media Center on an web-based oral histories database called WeSurvive: Stories of the Ebola Outbreak. When complete, the database will be hosted at Emory University. Our organization also just launched the WeOwnTV Filmmaker Fellowship which offers direct cash support and mentorship to West African filmmakers (supported by the Bertha Foundation and the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation). With Survivors, we want the world to see and feel what the Ebola outbreak was like from the perspective of Sierra Leoneans. We want the film to raise critical questions facing the ever closer union of our global community: What is value of a human life and is it equal across cultures and class? How does history play into the way these events unfold? How do we understand family and community? What does it mean to be an ethical human being?
--Banker White, Executive Director, WeOwnTV