Beyond Freetown: The Moa River Journey

Kenema, SL

Beyond Freetown: The Moa River Journey

A Documentary for Sierra Leone



Funding Update #4 (Beyond Freetown: The Moa River Journey) - Big Announcement! from Kieran Hanson on Vimeo.


First of all, please watch the video above for an introduction to this Sponsume Project!

(If you're having problems loading, try the Youtube version)

Beyond Freetown: The Moa River Journey is a documentary film that will focus on the incoming of new “responsible tourism” to a small post-conflict West African nation, capturing the interactions, exchanges and reflections of those on every side of this encounter.

The filmmaker will adopt an observational but involved approach to recording this landmark recce/recon for an adventure holiday 'expedition' along a 130 mile stretch of the Moa River, engaging with both the international team-members, their Sierra Leonean colleagues and those in the rural communities they encounter. This is the first time a documentary has been made following this route and the expedition itself will be a world first.

Beyond Freetown will not just be about a recce mission for tourism, it will also be about exploring the lives and possibilities of those living in remote parts of an economically impoverished, war-damaged country. Whereas Shooting Freetown looked at those working in creative industries in the capital city, Beyond Freetown takes us to the provinces where the ways of life are very different and encounters with outsiders raise fascinating questions.

In the few weeks preceding our arrival in Freetown, the people of Sierra Leone will have taken to the polls in the national elections. This is a crucial time in the future of the country as yet another peaceful and transparent election here, possibly even another transfer of power between parties, would cement Sierra Leone’s growing reputation as one of the most stable and promising nations in West Africa.

Perhaps a time of great optimism for Sierra Leone, but as the nation’s mineral wealth has resulted in little hope for a better future for a majority of her citizens, could new forms of tourism hold the key to a reversal of fortune? Do the desires and intentions of those from outside match those within the country? How do ordinary Sierra Leoneans perceive this encroaching industry and how much say will they have in how it will develop?

Beyond Freetown will explore these issues and more, while revealing the astonishing natural beauty and diverse rural cultures of a much misunderstood country.

The film will be shot in High Definition on a HVR-V1E camera and will likely be around 30mins in length, although depending on what happens once we are there, it could end up taking an extended form!

Why Should I Support This Film?

To be involved in bringing this film to life would be to help the outside world to see a country at a crucial turning point, to challenge preconceptions about the so called “developing world”, to give a human face and voice to people living in some of the most challenging conditions on earth, but for whom the future could hold more than many might expect.

You can get a privileged involvement in an exciting project at the forefront of global concerns, plus enjoy watching the final film knowing that you were part of it all. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

Who is the Filmmaker?

That would be me! Here is my official blurb:

Kieran Hanson is a documentary film-maker from Lancashire, UK. He recently attained his MA Visual Anthropology from the Granada Centre, University of Manchester. His thesis was an ethnographic film project carried out over the summer and autumn of 2011 in Sierra Leone, West Africa. This produced the short documentary Shooting Freetown, plus a number of collaborative video pieces.

Shooting Freetown recently won Best Film in the Student Short Documentary category at the Manchester Film Festival, has been nominated for the One World Media Awards 2012 and is currently showing at festivals around the world.

Kieran is based in Manchester working as a filmmaker, currently developing collaborative projects with local musicians from the West African diaspora and planning future work in Sierra Leone.

As someone trained in ethnographic documentary, I approach the people and themes in my films with an anthropological sensitivity, aiming to explore areas others may take for granted. I favour the development of strong bonds of trust and respect with those on the other side of the camera, even experimenting in collaborative approaches to the construction of my films, delving into interior imagined realities as well as the surface reality seen through observation.

As an example of my work, here is my previous documentary in Sierra Leone, Shooting Freetown


Shooting Freetown (2011) from Kieran Hanson on Vimeo.

How Did The Project Come About?

Quite simple really… I was approached by Thomas Armitt from West Africa Discovery (who seemed to have been impressed by Shooting Freetown!) to join him and a few others as he carried out a recce for the adventure holiday company Secret Compass. He would be arranging the transport and itinerary for the journey and providing I was able to get myself to Freetown with a camera, I could join them to record their journey.

I decided this would be a unique opportunity to witness first hand this interesting new tourism phenomenon, as well as meeting and hearing from Sierra Leoneans from small rural communities, which I regretted missing the chance to do on previous visits to the country.

Here’s some more information about what Thomas is aiming to achieve with West Africa Discovery:

Founded in 2009, West Africa Discovery is a non-profit web portal born from the realisation that West African based small/medium tourism providers lack the opportunities to share their activities with the world.
The portal raises awareness towards West Africa as a travel destination and promotes a more responsible and sustainable form of tourism.
We have carefully picked travel ideas that offer unique, authentic and unforgettable experiences and allow the traveller to discover a lesser known part of Africa in a meaningful way.

Here’s the official description of the expedition from Secret Compass:

Facilitated by West Africa Discovery, and organized by Secret Compass,  this is a journey of discovery transecting southern Sierra Leone along the Mao River from the border with Guinea to the sea. We will travel through different ecosystems and people giving us a unique insight into this fascinating country which is back on it's feet after a decade of conflict.
We follow the course of the Moa River on foot and by canoe. This will give us a unique insight into the diverse rural culture in Sierra Leone, as we pass through remote villages and small towns. We will also journey through Rainforest with abundant wildlife, gallery forests broken by farmlands, woodland savannah and mangrove vegetation.

Here is the promo video by Secret Compass for the expedition in January 2013.

Sierra Leone from Secret Compass on Vimeo.

...and some more info on Secret Compass and what they do.

Who will be on the Team?

As far as filmmaking goes, I will be carrying out all of the roles - director, camera, sound, editing. I have done this once before in Sierra Leone with Shooting Freetown so I feel more than comfortable reprising this!

As for the others I will be joining on this Recce, the list (so far) is:

Thomas Armitt (You met him in the video!) founder and owner of West Africa Discovery, Thomas will be leading the Recce. Find out more about WAD here:

Mark Louw will be in Sierra Leone volunteering at Tribewanted and is interested in permaculture and agriculture techniques in rural communities.

Umaru Woody is the Product development manager at the National Tourism Board of Sierra Leone. He has been instrumental in organising the information for the expedition, and will be interested in community engagement and sustainable tourism development possibilities.

Kat Cacavas is a dietician and has worked in Sierra Leone with Orphund and Tribewanted. She is interested in the dietary habits of rural communities in Eastern Sierra Leone.

Kenneth Gbengba will be the guide for the recce and the expedition. He has 25 years of experience conducting tours in remote regions of West Africa. Specialized in Birdwatching, his wealth of knowledge will be invaluable to the recce.

Timetable: Film Project Itinerary

December 3rd 2012: Fly out from London Gatwick to Freetown Lungi

December 3rd-9th: Preliminary shooting in Freetown and Western Peninsula with key characters, a visit to Tribewanted at John Obey village to screen Shooting Freetown and learn about their responsible tourism project, plus shooting of featurette Shooting Freetown: One Year On

December 10th: Set off on recce in provinces to the east/south of Sierra Leone, begin shooting main section of documentary in village communities and Moa River trail

December 23rd: Recce completed, team returns from provinces to Freetown

December 24th: Fly back from Freetown Lungi to London Gatwick

December 25th-Jan 2nd: Upload video-blog #1 and enjoy some festive cheer with family and friends! 

January 2013: Begin shot-list/transcription, capturing tapes, paper edit and rough cut

February 2013: Upload video-blog #2, editing up to final cut

Spring 2013: Uploading exclusive online content, arrange first screenings, submit to festivals

Budget... what will the funds go towards?

Transport: As I am carrying out this project independently, all costs need to be covered by my own means. The primary cost of this project is the airfare. Getting to Sierra Leone is an expensive business - once you're there, you can get by on very little (Which will come from my own pocket). I will be flying from London Gatwick to Freetown Lungi and the cost of the flights is between £769-£829.

Return travel from Manchester to Gatwick Airport will be at least £50.

The Visa, immunisations and anti-malarials will come to at least £100.

Equipment: I am very grateful to have been given the offer to borrow a full professional camera kit for this project, which substantially reduces the costs of making the film.

Extra costs includes tapes (approx. £45) an LED light (£20) extra batteries (£10).

The small amount left allows for insurance for myself and the equipment as well as accounting for things that might go wrong (and seeing as most of the filming is taking place in remote tropical forests this could well happen!).


This film will be dedicated to the memory of Adama Kpana, wife of Alfred "KP" Kpana, who many of you may remember from Shooting Freetown. She passed away in January 2012 from birthing complications. Adama appears briefly in the film, speaking proudly about her daughter, FS. She was a loving mother and wife and her tragic passing highlights the major risks faced by pregnant women in Sierra Leone.

If the project funding total raises above the target, I will be donating money towards maternal health charities in Sierra Leone.

Thank you.


Facebook Page:



West Africa Discovery:

Secret Compass:

Visit Sierra Leone:

Brand Sierra Leone:

Thank you all!
Posted: Friday, 30 November, 2012 - 12:11

So, the crowdfunding project has come to an end!

As promised, I've given everyone who donated £10 or more an indivdual note of thanks on my social media sites.


If you havent already, please do head over to the Beyond Freetown Facebook Page:

Or Twitter (You'll have to scroll down a bit to find them!):

Shooting Freetown bonus footage
Posted: Saturday, 24 November, 2012 - 14:11

As we get into the final few days of the Beyond Freetown: The Moa River Journey crowdfunding campaign, as a special treat I thought I would share with you a short clip of unseen 'bonus footage' I edited together shortly after finishing Shooting Freetown...

A (very) short film created from the material shot during the Shooting Freetown project, Summer 2011.

Up until independence in 1961, for centuries Sierra Leone's history was one marked by slavery and British colonial rule.

The Rebel War of the 1990s and its immediate aftermath left people with little time to reflect on this history, but amidst the hustle & bustle of Freetown in 2011, evidence of this past can be found all over the city.

British flags remain, now the marker of quality imported goods. Public artwork remembers the pain of the ancestors and the ceremonial costumes of old, traditions which still survive in the provinces.

In King Jimmy Market, once the region's foremost slaving port, the young film-makers of WeOwnTV finish shooting a historical drama called 'They Resisted', in the very same tunnels slaves were once taken down to be boarded on ships to the New World.

A visitor from the land of the former oppressor finds the camera turned on him and old roles being reversed... Additional camera work by Arthur Pratt


Freetown Shorts: A British Slave in Freetown from Kieran Hanson on Vimeo.

Video Update #4 - Big Announcement!
Posted: Wednesday, 21 November, 2012 - 22:11
Radio Interview with Kieran Hanson
Posted: Monday, 05 November, 2012 - 09:11

Feature on Cultural Collage with Geli Berg, on Manchester community radio station ALL FM 04/11/12

Tourism in Sierra Leone and the Gola Forest
Posted: Monday, 29 October, 2012 - 16:10

Here are a few videos and links that connect to some of the places and themes we will be exploring in 'Beyond Freetown', giving an idea of the existing media reporting concerning tourism in Sierra Leone and natural environment of the region containing the Moa River.

Sierra Leone was once a fairly popular tourism destination with Europeans, the pristine tropical beaches of the Western Peninsula proving a particular draw. Since the Civil War in the 1990s, the number of tourists fell to practically none.

Here is a clip produced by the UK's Department For International Development (DFID) with the Sierra Leonean tourist board. Several such promotional films have been produced since the mid '00s attempting to convince the outside world Sierra Leone is a good place to visit and invest in. The image presented is certainly overly positive, considering the ongoing problems concerning infrastructure and transport. The clips also rely on familiar Western stereotypes of "Happy Africans", as opposed to the "Tragic Africans" associated with the war. We assured the country is safe by a white foreigner.

This next clip opens with a map of the region we will be spending most of our time in. The Moa River can be clearly seen set inside the Gola Forest, with Tiwai Island Nature Reserve located in the river (a place we will also be visiting). This is from a wildlife documentary by TV biologist Dr. Sanjayan, himself a Sierra Leonean, called 'Wildlife In A Warzone'. The war had been over for 5 years when this film was aired. 

Here is a short piece from the Guardian last week about the Forest Rangers of the Gola National Park (To the immediate south of the Moa River). The reporter seems to care mostly what the rangers think of him, but gives us a glimpse into the work being carried out in conservation in this part of the country.

Finally, photographer and adventurer Brandan Van Son , who has recently spent some time travelling in Sierra Leone, offers some novel perspectives on ways he thinks Sierra Leone could cash in on the tourism market.



Join 'Beyond Freetown' on Facebook!
Posted: Monday, 22 October, 2012 - 12:10

Click here and 'Like' the page to be kept up to date via Facebook!

Video Update #2
Posted: Sunday, 21 October, 2012 - 19:10

Thomas Armitt from West Africa Discovery explains who will be joining him on the Moa River Recce...

Moa River Journey - Meet The Team! from Kieran Hanson on Vimeo.

Users details

Days to go
GBP £2,315
185% raised of our GBP £1,250 goal
This project ended on Monday, Nov 26th - 16:00

This project's deadline has now expired - you can no longer back these rewards

You cannot back this project, funding is now complete.


Every little helps!

£10.00 or more : For helping even a small amount towards the project, you will get a great big THANK YOU over our Facebook & Twitter! You will also unlock 2 exclusive VIDEO-BLOGS by the filmmaker, giving you key updates on the project and a fascinating insight into the film-making process! * One (Seasonal!) blog immediately after he returns from Sierra Leone, giving an update on the shooting of the documentary and wishing you all a Happy New Year! * Another following the editing of the film, with reflections on the process and projections about the next stages!


Digital Download & Exclusive Content

£25.00 or more : As well as the rewards above, for this amount you will receive your own high quality DIGITAL DOWNLOAD of the completed film so you can watch and share it wherever you are. You will also unlock access to exclusive behind-the-scenes online content: * On location video diaries made by the team * Deleted scenes * A special feature: "Shooting Freetown: One Year On" where you will catch up with Paps, KP and Arthur a year after the original documentary, finding out what has happened in their lives and their plans for the future.


DVD & Premiere Invitation

£50.00 or more : Thank you so much! For this reward you will get everything listed above plus an OFFICIAL DVD copy of the film. We know everything is going digital these days, but its nice to have something physical to place on a shelf! As well as the artwork for the film, on the DVD sleeve you'll find your name printed there as an extra "Thank You". You will also have secured yourself an INVITE+1 TO AN EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE SCREENING of the finished film either in Manchester or London (depending on demand, probably both!). You'll have the chance to see the film that you helped make happen on a big screen, meet the filmmaker (who will thank you in person!) plus there will be some other surprise entertainment on offer to make the occasion even more special!


Named Credit

£100.00 or more : For this reward you will get everything above plus a NAMED CREDIT on the film itself as an official SUPPORTER of the documentary. Wherever in the world the film is seen, your name will be there as a testament to your generosity in making it happen. You will also receive, not just one, but FIVE COPIES of the OFFICIAL DVD! That's some Christmas presents sorted for 2013!


Super Supporter!

£250.00 or more : This a truly amazing level of support, and deserves a greater level of interaction. Alongside eeeeeeeeverything you see listed above, you will be invited (either in person or remotely via a protected video on Vimeo) to view an unfinished cut of the documentary and asked to provide feedback on film. Feedback during the editing process is crucial for the Editor to understand the ways in which the film is and isn't working. You will become part of this process, with your thoughts helping to shape the finished article. As an extra thank you, you will also be sent with a selection of Sierra Leonean RURAL CRAFTS which we will purchase from the very communities you will meet in the film!


Associate Producer

£500.00 or more : This is the premier league of support! Fittingly, you will receive the title of ASSOCIATE PRODUCER, someone who truly played a major role in bringing this film to life. Your name will be at the forefront of the credits on the finished film. As well as all of the numerous perks listed above, you will become a valued member of the team. You'll be directly kept up to speed at each stage of the development of the film (by whichever method you prefer) and beyond! Wherever this film ends up, you can share in the experience and get some real insight into the adventure of factual filmmaking! ... and if you're local, I'll definitely buy you a pint!