Director: Newton I. Aduaka.
Starring: Mamoudu Turay Kamara (Ezra), Mariame N'Diaye (Onitcha), Mamusu Kallon (Mariam), Richard Gant (Mac Mondale), Mercy Ojelade (Cynthia), Emile Abossolo M'bo, Cleophas Kabasita (Judge Naim).
in Sierra Leone's civil war, a child soldiers faces a Truth and Reconciliation Commission realizes he must come clean on the crimes he committed
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
13th July 1992. At the Windsor Anglican Elementary School, a teacher writes the date on the blackboard. A young boy is coming late to school. He's not the only one coming. Soldiers come and start grabbing some of the boys. A male teacher tries to stop them and is shot dead. They bring the boys to another group of boys. One of the boys is very scared and making a lot of commotion. He is dragged aside by a soldier and then shot to death. This really scares the other boys.
The boys are used as carriers of supplies and equipment. When they get to the encampment, the boys are placed in military uniforms. The leader says that the boys are going to be fighting a battle and they must be ready to give their lives for the fight. A kid asks what are they fighting for? For justice, says the leader. The boys go through basic training. They learn how to use the AK-47 rifles and they are taught how to march.
Ezra is trying to make something out of wood, gets frustrated and goes outside. He sits down on a big stack of lumber and smokes a cigarette. He has to go to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing, where if he doesn't want to get prosecuted for war crimes, he has to tell the whole truth before the hearing. The General comes in and the Commission starts. Ezra's sister Onitcha testified earlier that she saw her brother kidnapped by the rebels while she was in school. When next did you see your brother?
Flashback. The rebels attack a town. A girl has to jump into some water in order to get away from the firing of the rebels. The rebels are shooting off their weapons into the air as if this was some type of celebration. The people of the town are scared and running anywhere and everywhere they think they can find some safety. Some houses are being blown up. Women and girls are being raped. Ezra's sister was one of those being terrorized. This is when Onitcha noticed her brother was up on their roof firing down into their home. And he ordered the house to be bombed.
The next day medical personnel go around trying to patch up the wounded. As the personnel perform their duties, a little summary of the recent history of Sierra Leone is heard over the radio. "It is not quite clear which of the two rebel groups engaged in this war was responsible for last night's attack on this village. The villagers have been terrified into silence. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the perpetrators could either be the DPRA or the Blood Brotherhood. The DPRA (the Democratic People's Renaissance Army) is a renegade government force. They control the western provinces. The brotherhood is a faction of the PRS (The People's Revolutionary Front). The stronghold is the diamond-rich eastern region. This is not a war divided along ethnic or religious lines. Two factions are fighting to overthrow the western-backed political elite who have coveted power for 32 years in this diamond reach country." (This quote is not completely correct, because I couldn't follow every word they said. -- the film reviewer.)
Back to the present. Ezra shouts at his sister: "Why are you lying? You bring me her to sacrifice me?" She tells him that what she said is the truth. Ezra gets up from the table. He shouts at her: "You liar." Ezra goes over to an old man and tells him that it was the DPRA. He wants him to testify to this, but the old man just shakes his head back and forth. Ezra becomes even more belligerent and two police officers have to grab him and escort him out. The judges disagree on what they should do, but the General ramrods his idea through.
At night Ezra has a nightmare of a little girl lost amidst her burning town that wakes him up. He goes outside and is grabbed by two men with white coats on. The case of Ezra will now be conducted much more formally in a court room, but with the same judges. The nun Cynthia Coleman is called to the witness stand. Does she recognize the defendant? Of course. That's Ezra. The General asks Cynthia if she remembers the day of the 6th of January, 1999? Cynthia starts to tell what happened. She says she had to accompany the rebels as they went through three different villages. She remembers there was a lot of blood and crying. The General has to ask her directly if she saw Ezra there among the boys? She says no, but then reminds the General that she said she didn't really see much of the faces of the boys. She says that the boys were children only trying to survive.
Now Ezra's sister testifies about what kind of child was Ezra. She can't speak, but must use sign language and a woman translates for the court. She says he was a good boy.
The General asks her about when was the next time she saw her brother? In the attack on the village, the Guliham (?) house was damaged. Ezra recognizes a necklace that his mother always wore. His sister stands in the dark not far from him. He sees a person standing there, points his AK-47 at the figure, tells her to say who she is (she can't) and then is told to step forward. When she steps into the light Ezra remembers her and gives her a hug. He asks her where are their parents? The sister just keeps shaking her head back and forth. Are they dead? Sister nods that this is correct. Who did it? Sister indicates she doesn't know. Then he asks can't she talk? Sister opens her mouth to show her brother her missing tongue. He recoils in horror at the sight.
The next day Ezra, his sister and a female rebel soldier go to see the old man. It's been seven years since the man saw Ezra. Ezra says that Mariam, the rebel soldier, is his wife. The old man welcomes Mariam to the family. Ezra asks him which raiders attacked the village? The old man doesn't know. Ezra says that he does know who it was -- those cockroaches, the DPRA.
The old man takes the sister outside and says that he remembers seeing that girl (Mariam) during the attack on the village. He wants the sister to tell Ezra what happened, but she doesn't want to.
They walk with lighted torches through the woods. They come across some dead bodies. Ezra's sister is very upset at the sights, but Ezra and his wife just take it in stride.
Ezra is really angry as he returns to the rebel camp. He walks over to the leader and tells him: "They killed my parents." Other soldiers gather around. One guy says a lot of the fellows have lost their parents. Ezra attacks the guy and throws him down on the ground. When he is satisfied the guy is not resisting, he lets him up. The leader grabs him and tells him to straighten up. Ezra is still angry saying that he has done everything that was ever asked of him for the Blood Brotherhood. The leader says: "Okay. I will take care of it."
Sister and sister-in-law confer together. It's hard to tell what's been said because the sister has to write out what she wants to say and the audience can't see the paper. Mariam just says to her sister-in-law that she must not do what she wrote because there will be a massacre. She adds that if sister-in-law goes to Rufus, she will never come back alive.
When Ezra and his wife are together, she whispers to him that she is pregnant. Ezra is very happy to hear this and he tells the others nearby. They are happy for him. His sister gives him a big hug.
Some of the soldiers dance to a lively tune. The leader comes over to Ezra and tells him congratulations, he will have his revenge. This puts a big smile on Ezra's face.
At night, with torches, Ezra leads the column of soldiers out of the camp. They look strong going out. But coming back the next day, they have been shot up a lot. And Mariam is not with them. The leader says that they are all a bunch of idiots and incompetents. He should shoot each of them in the back of the head. Ezra says it was an ambush. The leader tells Ezra and Moses to step forward two steps. They step forward. The leader rips off the insignia of rank from Ezra and gives it to the younger Moses saying that now he is the commander of J company.
Down by a stream, Moses tries to cheer up Ezra, but Ezra stays down in the dumps. Moses tries to give the insignia back to Ezra, but he won't take it. He says he wants to take his wife and leave the rebels. Ezra also says about the cause: "What cause?" This makes Moses mad and he starts to go off in a huff, but Ezra grabs him and forces him down on the ground. Moses tells him to go ahead and shoot him, because first Ezra says he is leaving and then Ezra tells him that the cause is worthless.
At night Ezra tells Onitcha to get up. They are leaving this place. As they walk, they reach a cross road. Ezra tells his sister to turn left and keep walking. He himself is turning right. But Onitcha won't leave him. He starts manhandling her and whipping her with small branches in a bunch and tells her: "Go home!" He adds: "Don't follow me. I don't want you to die!" He starts walking away leaving her crying on the path.
There's a knock at the door of the hospital. The doctor lets Ezra in and he asks the doc for something that will allow him to sleep. The doctor gives him some pills and tells him not to worry because everything will be okay.
Back to the present. Ezra Gulliham is asked to stand. He is 15 or 16 years old -- he can't remember exactly. His sister indicates that he is 16. The General says that one of the three villages the Blood Brotherhood attacked was his own village and his parents died in that attack. Does he remember the 6th of January, 1999?
Flashback. Ezra says he met his future wife. She was standing at attention in a formation on Ezra's right. Onitcha, standing behind, him asks if he likes her? Ezra asks her name. It's Miriam. Later Onitcha goes and gets Mariam. They go together over to Ezra and the young girl introduces the three fellows there, including Ezra, to Mariam. Mariam was told that Ezra wanted to know the definition of a word in the book he is reading. But he is holding the book upside down. So she knows it was for another reason he wanted to meet her.
The sister asks Mariam about her life story and she says it's complicated. But everyone wants to hear it anyway and they all gather around her. Her father was a Maoist journalist. The secret service started harassing him because he denounced the corruption around the president. So the family had to go to a safe house. Then they went to the camp of the People's Revolutionary Front. They lived at the camp together, but the government troops attacked the camp. Her parents disappeared. Then she trained as a soldier. She says her parents are dead.
Ezra and Onitcha say they didn't join the rebel forces. They were kidnapped and forced to be soldiers.
The soldiers of J company come over to headquarters. Ezra tells the leader that the soldiers have been patient. Patiently waiting for the food to arrive. The food will be here on Friday, says the leader. Someone says that's what they always say, but the food doesn't come. Another person says they will stop work. The leader threatens them. Ezra salutes the leader and the soldiers start breaking up. One fellow makes a smart-aleck remark and the leader has his assistant kill the young fellow.
The company holds a funeral for their dead comrade. Mariam walks away from it before any one else leaves. Later Ezra brings her some food, but she knocks it out of his hand saying that his name should be Ezra the Coward. He's not taking care of his troops. The diamonds end up in the hands of the leader and then he kills one of Ezra's soldiers. Mariam says if he can kill one soldier, he certainly can kill Ezra too. She tells him to wise up and leaves.
Back to the present. The General says they already know about Ezra's meeting his future wife. What they want to know is what Ezra knows about the three attacks on the 6th of January, 1999. Ezra says he doesn't remember the details. And the reason why he doesn't remember much is because the leader gave the men injections of what they call "bubbles".
Flashback. The leader confers with a white man who has lots of different drugs with him. The white man says he has lots of amphetamines. That night the soldiers are injected with amphetamines. They start dancing around a fire and shooting off their AK-47s. Ezra says with the drugs they could fight for four days straight. The drugs also helped to disable the soldiers' moral inhibitions. So, that's why he doesn't remember how many people he killed.
Back to the present. The woman judge asks what happened after Ezra left his sister behind at the crossroads?
Flashback. At night, the government soldiers capture Ezra. As he is brought into base, he sees a lot of white soldiers. They throw him into a shallow hole in the ground with iron bars over the top. The next day a high-ranked officer comes to talk with him. Why did he leave the Brotherhood? Ezra says they are very hungry because they have not been receiving their food supply. The officer doesn't believe that's the reason. So he puts Ezra back in the cage. Ezra is taken out later by interrogators and tortured a bit (not shown) and then is thrown back into the cage.
The next morning a helicopter flies over the base. it land and Ezra notices that with the black officers is that same white fellow who gave the Brotherhood the amphetamines. Ezra is let out of his hole in order to carry boxes off the helicopter and into a storage area. It looks like a major offensive is going to take place.
At night Ezra is brought into a room with the white intelligence officers. They think they have located the place that Ezra described to them. Now they ask him to confirm it. He says yes, that's it.
On the base is none other than Ezra's Mariam. The two talk together. She tells him that he can touch her belly because the baby is fine. She now says that she doesn't really know whether her parents are dead or alive. It was just easier for her to believe they are dead. Ezra tells her that he gave the government forces the information on where the camp is located.
The government soldiers start moving toward the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Ezra and Mariam are on the march. They come to the Windsor school. Onitcha is there. Mariam sneaks up behind her and scares her sister-in-law. They hug. Then Onitcha greets her brother.
Ezra says that they will go to the capital and from there cross to Lagos. Onitcha writes that she doesn't want to be a refugee. Ezra says she can stay if she wants to. They all go to the capital. From there they take a bus. But the bus is stopped by the rebels. They rough up the driver and then order everyone off the bus. They have everyone sit down and then they tell them to give them their ballot documentation. They start separating the large group into three groups: men, women and children. But then the government troops pull up in a truck and a fire fight begins.
The people on the bus start running away. Poor Mariam is shot in the back. Ezra runs up to her, but she is dead. He screams for help and the government troops grab him.
Back to the present. The Commission is back in session. The General is very sympathetic to these young children forced to become soldiers. The other black male judge has known Ezra almost since he was born. He hopes Ezra will find peace for himself. But Ezra must admit his crimes, at least to himself, before he can have that feeling of internal peace. Ezra gets up and says he can't do that because he doesn't remember what he really did. He then falls over in a faint.
Ezra looks as though he is in a hospital as he is wearing blue clothes and talking to a psychiatrist, who says the his amnesia was caused by a mixture of drugs and trauma. He may not know the details of all the killings, but he does say that he killed many people. His last statement is: "May the spirit of everyone that died in this war forgive me."
"By the year 2000, it was reported than an estimated 300,000 children were serving as soldiers in armed conflicts in more than 30 countries around the world, and that nearly 120,000 of these were engaged in various conflicts on the African continent. The arms continue to pour in, the Blood diamonds, oil and other natural resources continue to be shipped out. Children continue to fight and a future generation continues to be laid to waste."
The model for the "leader" in the movie is the brutal Charles Taylor, who later became Liberia's 22nd president. He was the one who often kidnapped young boys and girl to use in his army to fight the government forces in the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002). Taylor is the one who encouraged the use of mutilation as a weapon of war. The main character in the film is Ezra. He's a good kid, but under bad leadership and heavy sedation he killed and mutilated people without mercy. The film highlights the problem of the kidnapping of children to be forced to serve as soldiers. Ezra was just one of thousands of children kidnapped. The film moves around a lot using a great many flashbacks, which are not necessarily in chronological order. I got a bit confused as I went through all those flashback. (It made more sense as soon as I learned that Ezra could not remember much, because he, like his comrades, were heavily sedated with drugs. You don't learn this until the film is near its end.) Ezra, his wife and his sister get into many tough situations that they have to struggle to get out of. Mamoudu Turay Kamara (as Ezra) pulled off both the good boy look and the evil look as a child soldier. He easily switched from one role to the other.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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