Change The World, Create Something!

Fambul Tok. [Photo courtesy of]


By Shannon J. Effinger


Fambul Tok, a documentary from filmmaker/photojournalist Sara Terry, asks us to redefine our own meaning of humanity and forgiveness. Filmed entirely in Sierra Leone, this film captures the efforts of Fambul Tok International, a grassroots organization formed by John Caulker that is dedicated to reconciling a community that has endured an insurmountable amount of hardship as a result of an 11 year civil war. The exact death toll is unknown but recent estimates show that at least 50,000 people were killed in that war. Special courts were created by both the Sierra Leone government and the UN to address the crimes that were committed during the war. But to date, only a handful of rebel leaders were captured and tried by the courts, leaving thousands of perpetrators and victims neighboring one another. How would they begin to repair the damage that has been done?

The goal of Fambul Tok International, which means "family talk" in Krio, is to pair victim and perpetrator together at a nighttime reconciliation ceremony. The ceremony itself is just one crucial step that is taken to repair this community and the process of healing is far more complex. The community forms a circle around a bonfire, a tradition in Sierra Leone that fell out of practice during the civil war, to share their stories. The victims begin to share such horrific stories of rape and murder and then the perpetrators are brought out to face the victims. Once there’s acknowledgement and an amends is made, the victim then forgives the perpetrator for their crime.


Terry's footage of the reconciliation ceremonies are perhaps the most intense moments of the film. Not only because of the stories that the victims share, but also how it’s all captured on film. It's photojournalism at is best for there's no artificial light, only the light from the bonfire, and a certain graininess in the film that makes you feel like you're actually there.

Sara Terry's Fambul Tok shows us a different perspective of Sierra Leone, where a community works to heal deep wounds and unite, one that the news media rarely portrays. To say that Terry's film will challenge your beliefs is definitely an understatement. But I think that in order to appreciate the goal of Fambul Tok International, you have to abandon your own sense of justice and really look at what is happening without judgement. The organization has proven to be far more effective for Sierra Leone than the actions of the special courts and if the world begins to take notice perhaps other post-conflict communities in Africa and abroad will someday benefit from these efforts. 

Fambul Tok was an official selection of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. To learn more about Fambul Tok and where it will be showing next near you, visit

To learn more about the organization and their efforts in Sierra Leone, visit



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