Friday, March 6, 2015

Freetown Review

Recently I had the great privilege of seeing the premier of Garrett Batty's new movie Freetown at the LDS Film Festival, which started March 4th and goes through March 7th. If you are reading this while the festival is still going on, I highly recommend you check out their website,, and see if there are any movies or events that pique your interest, because there's a lot of fantastic things going on. Personally I loved The Saratov Approach, which was directed by the aforementioned Garrett Batty, so I was excited to see his new movie. When I discovered it was premiering at the festival, I gladly took the opportunity to go see it. Turns out that was a fantastic decision. Not only was it a great movie that I am excited to tell you about, but having Garrett Batty, producer Adam Abel, and others from the crew to talk about the movie and answer questions made the whole experience one that I won't forget. It would be really great if I could do this every time I saw a new movie, but hey I'll take what I can get.

What is this movie about? Well, it's the second straight missionary-in-peril movie that Garrett Batty has done. It's a slightly more complex situation than The Saratov Approach in that there is a lot of history and politics involved in the setting of the film which I was unaware of, but nonetheless we are down in Africa amidst a very dangerous situation. Specifically the setting is Monrovia, Liberia during one of the Liberian civil wars that took place not too far in the past. There's a group of native missionaries there that want nothing more than to continue their mission of preaching the gospel to these people in Africa, but in order to do so safely, they need to escape from Monrovia and make it to Freetown, which is the capital of the neighboring country Sierra Leone. This makes for a very intense movie that was even more intense because I had no idea what the outcome of this was going to be. With The Saratov Approach, I first heard it announced during a BYU football game when the actual surviving missionaries showed up. This of course meant that they couldn't die in the movie because they survived in real life. Knowing this didn't ruin The Saratov Approach. However, not knowing the outcome in Freetown made for quite the ride. I knew that some of them had to survive in order to tell this story, but there was no guarantee for all of them.

Because of this, this definitely isn't your typical happy Mormon movie that is appropriate to show in Sunday School. If you don't do well during intense movies, then this might not be for you. However, if you like intense movies or at the very least don't mind them, then please proceed because this is excellent. What I really liked is that this had a very good balance to it. Yes, it was intense as they traveled from place to place, but it wasn't like that for the whole movie. There were plenty of positive, happy scenes spread throughout as the missionaries take time to share the gospel or spend time with children that are happy to see them. Oftentimes missionaries are just big 20-year-old goofballs (I know that one by personal experience) and thus there was plenty of humor spread throughout. Finally, there are a lot of positive, uplifting scenes that you would expect from a movie like this. None of it felt cliche at all, but rather very appropriate. There's a lot that these guys go through and thus this is a faith-promoting movie that is all about moving forward in live and being courageous, despite what is about to happen. I mean, if an angry rebel points a gun to your head and asks you who you are, what are you are going to do? Are you brave enough to tell him the truth even if he just shot and killed the person standing next to you for doing the same thing? Can you move forward and continue to have faith even if it seems like the road ahead of you is impossible? This is what this movie is ultimately all about and I loved. It also didn't feel preachy at all. It's a survival movie that can apply to everyone, regardless of religious belief.

In addition to having the perfect balance between intensity, inspiration, and humor, I was also very impressed with the technical aspects of this movie. As it's an independent movie, they don't have a large budget and they aren't guaranteed to make much in terms of a financial return. The hope is to be as successful as The Saratov Approach, but that's not a sure fire thing. Thus I can often forgive movies for not being technically sound when they don't have the financial means to do so. Now I don't know the specifics of their budget on this, but in my opinion this is as impressive as something that was done on a large budget. Visually speaking, this movie was amazing. It was shot on location in Africa, Ghana I believe they said, and they beautifully captured the look of that region. From what they described, this was an uphill battle to get this shot and they had a very limited time to do so. It was either three or six weeks, I can't remember which. Often on a limited time frame with a lot of difficulties a movie can feel rushed or choppy, but not knowing any of that you wouldn't know that they had any of those issues because the final product was great. I also appreciated the lack of shakiness in the movie. I think the shakiness worked in The Saratov Approach, but I didn't feel it was completely necessary and thus I was nervous that Garrett was going to do that again, but he didn't. This was very smoothly shot and thus has no chance of giving you a headache.

I also can't end this review without mentioning the fact the music was spectacular. A great score in a movie is often the glue that puts the movie together and that's definitely the case here. The fellow who did the score in this was there at the screening along with Garrett Batty, Adam Abel, and others and as he walked past me afterwards, I got the chance to thank him personally for his amazing score. He was very appreciative of this gesture and perhaps jokingly told me to tell this to the director. So  Garrett, if you are reading this review, here's me following up on that. Your choice of person to do the score was perfect and if you bring him on again for whatever your next project is, I will be very happy. 

So in the end, I am very happy that I got to see this movie at the LDS Film Festival. As many of you reading this did not get to see it, I am happy to tell you that its theatrical release is not too far away. April 8th is the date. Mark that on your calendars because you need to see this movie. In addition to talking to the guy who did the score, I also had the great pleasure of talking to Garrett Batty for a moment as well. I even have a picture to prove it. After watching this film as well as The Saratov Approach, I feel comfortable saying that Garrett is an inspired man. Yes, this movie is very intense and if you don't do intense movies it might not be for you, but it's also a super inspirational and overall fantastic movie that successfully delivers a very powerful message about moving forward and being brave. It's sure to be considered another classic in terms of LDS-themed films right along with The Saratov Approach. At least it will be in my book. My grade for Freetown is a 9/10.

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