For 10 years Nova Studios have been following the fortunes of young African footballer Alhassan ‘Saviour’ Kamara from Hull’s partner city Freetown, Sierra Leone. When Saviour marries his Swedish girlfriend in Greece this June the film will finally find it’s happy ending. Here’s the story of Nova’s remarkable 10 year long project…
Nova Studios has now been established for 12 years and during that time we have developed strong links with Hull’s partner city Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Our Sierra Leone work initially started with education projects, building links between schools in Hull and Freetown and developing media resources to support those links.
Throughout that time we have worked closely with our Freetown based colleague Lansana Mansaray (aka Barmmy Boy), a talented musician and film-maker.
In 2009 we had an idea…
Hull City were struggling for goals in the Premiership , so we wondered whether we might be able to find the answer to their problems in Freetown. Sierra Leoneans are mad for English football, and we knew there were plenty of brilliant young African players who just needed a break in order to grow their talents.
So the plan was this: ask Barmmy Boy to make a few enquiries and try to find the most exciting young Sierra Leonean striker. We’d see whether there was any chance we could get Hull City to give him a trial and, with Barmmy, we’d make a film about the whole process.
We knew it was a long-shot, but just imagine if we pulled it off…
We didn’t know it would be a project that really would change our lives.
Barmmy found our man. 16-year-old Alhassan Kamara (aka Crespo and sometimes aka Saviour) was a 16-year-old kid who was causing a real stir in the Sierra Leone Premier League. He played for the Freetown team Mighty Blackpool FC and lived with his folks in the east side of the city in a neighbourhood of social housing known as LowCost.
During the Sierra Leone civil war, the east side of the city was over-run by the vicious rebel army. Hundreds of people were killed or maimed. It may seem incredible, but it’s true – when Saviour and his mates were little, their first footballs were human skulls.
So in 2009 we started filming Saviour’s story.
Eventually, with the help of an article in the Yorkshire Post, we managed to persuade Hull City boss Adam Pearson to offer Saviour a trial. But the celebrations were short-lived when he was refused a visa by the UK authorities on the grounds of his family’s poverty.
So we took another route…
At that time, because of the civil war, Sierra Leone was still mistakenly regarded as a dangerous country (in truth it was no more dangerous than the end of our street). The only FIFA registered football agent who was willing to scout there was a Swede named Patrick Mork – so we contacted Patrick to ask if he’d be willing to check-out Saviour on his next trip to Freetown.
Patrick was blown away and within weeks Saviour had a Swedish agent, a Swedish visa and was on a plane out of tropical Freetown to play on loan for Bodens BK – a small lower league club in Lapland on the edge of the Arctic Circle. And after a handful of goals, Sweden’s leading club, Stockholm-based AIK had signed him on a two-year deal – we were there to film it all.
On the strength of that trailer we were lucky enough to secure the interest of BAFTA award-winning sports documentary director Dan Gordon (Hillsborough, BEST, 9:79* and more) as executive producer championing the project, provisionally titled They Call Me Saviour.
There’s been loads of interest from broadcasters all over the world but it’s been hard to get a commission because we’ve never known how the film ends.
Since 2011 so much has happened – and we’ve shot it all. Saviour became the Sierra Leone national team’s first-choice striker, he transferred to Orebro (OSK) and became the Swedish premier league’s (Allsvenskan) top scoring striker, he met a wonderful young Swedish woman called Pernilla, his family back home lived survived the Ebola crisis, we got him another trial offer with Hull City (which OSK turned down)… and in spite of recurring injury issues, he’s continued to smile, and continued to believe his own hashtag #thebestisyettocome
Saviour now lives in Greece and plays for Greek Super League side Panetolikos.
His dream was to play for Hull City, but life sometimes takes you on a different route. But maybe one day…
At the end of April, we travel to see him in Greece and then again in June when he gets married to Pernilla – we’ll be there filming it all. And with the marriage, we get the happy ending that Saviour’s efforts and talent have always deserved.
In 10 years, during the course of 10 visits to Freetown, 4 visits to Sweden, and Saviour coming over to Hull we’ve shot over 250 hours of footage.
They Call Me Saviour tells the story of a talented 16-year-old footballer living in poverty, but he’s a kid with a dream; it’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an African becoming European. 10 years in which his life, his family’s life, and our own lives have all changed beyond belief.
There’s work still to be done, but we think the finish line is now within reach. Saviour has found love and his dreams have come true.
Now, all we’ve got to do is edit it.