Very few documentaries can really change how you view your life. Sure, you may watch them and think “that’s cool” but it’s near impossible to change someone’s perception on the world around them. Sam and Archie did just that. The Diamond of Sierra Leonne is not just an incredible student film but simply an amazing short film. Abib Kamara Smith’s life story made me so grateful for those around me and so driven to do more with my life. If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favour and click the video below.
Sam Cotton Wong is a freelance photographer and videographer based in Brisbane. Sam specialises in cinematography and music videos. He was the director of this production. Archie Waterson is a writer and producer who is completely dedicated to comedy. He was the producer and writer for this short film.
What is the focus of this documentary?
“The documentary follows the story of Abib Kamara Smith who was originally born in Sierra Leonne. He came to Australia when he was 5 years old. He was adopted into this family called the smiths which had siblings of Archie, Gemma, Isaac, Bailey and Bass and his parents Willie and Anthony. And ultimately the documentary just follows his life from Africa and the struggles along the way.” – Sam
Why did you choose to produce this short film, Archie?
“Being a student, I was over doing stuff that wasn’t meaningful or purposeful to me. Taking on this bigger story gave me a lot more passion and I think that’s why it was important to take this story on. The minute Sam told me about Abib’s story, I was hooked. Just imagining seeing it on screen and telling it to the world.” – Archie
Why did you want to tell Abib’s story Sam?
“I have grown up with him. Knowing him and his story is completely different to everything I have heard and in Australia especially. Abib’s whole past, his upbringing and especially how he is now excelling in life. Also, the focus of don’t let your past define you was the universal idea and everyone can relate to this idea.” – Sam
Can you just talk us through the style and shooting of the short?
“When we met up with Abib, he just remembers having this old vintage TV in Africa. We tried to recreate that old TV vintage look as a memory of him watching it as a kid. Also, the floating photos seen were representing Abib’s memories in his head.” – Sam
“We wanted to put a lot of effort into the cinematography. We didn’t want to let it drag. The story was obviously going to carry itself, but it needed to look just as good as it felt. We shot on Super 8 for it. It had a nostalgic feel and, we just wanted to experiment.” – Archie
What were some core inspirations for this documentary?
“Definitely Colin in Black and White. Especially the projector shots, they were a big influence.” – Sam
“Also, another one was …. We were really inspired by the look and how poetic it was. Just the structure and how intriguing it was.” – Archie
Can you talk me through the name a little?
“When we were originally pitching the project Abib’s from Sierra Leonne and I just sought of put them together since I am a massive Kanye fan. When I was doing background research, I saw they were the biggest exporter of Blood Diamonds. The overall meaning though is that Abib is the diamond coming out of the ground. Also, giving the Kanye fans a little easter egg as well…” – Archie
Biggest challenge of making an indie documentary?
“We had this three-act structure obviously going in that we knew how we wanted to shape it. But, cutting it to a 5–6-minute documentary from a 36 minute was probably the hardest thing.” – Sam
“Abib had so many different stories you could tell in 6 minutes that it made it so difficult for our editor Cooper and Sam to keep it down. Just finding which leads were the strongest and what to go with.” – Archie
What was the most rewarding part of The Diamond of Sierra Leonne?
“Feeling the flame inside of all of us when we were making this thing because it was such a passion project. I felt the happiest I have been years working on this because I knew we were telling this massive story. Also, how good the crew was and how much we cared for Abib’s story. One more thing was the lessons I learnt from Abib as well. The perspective it gives you is second to none. It changed my life and how I look at thing’s day to day.” – Archie
“I remember leaving the interview and just going “Holy fuck.” I knew his story well but it was just so intense. You just look at life a bit different. Also, just watching it on the big screen altogether seeing what we created. We made something special and it’s the best thing I have done.” – Sam
What are your ultimate goals with this project?
“We have sent it to a few festivals, and we are looking to get accepted. Another plan was using it as a proof of concept to create a bigger documentary.” – Archie
“I would love to have a screening with friends and family.” – Sam
Where do you both want to see the Brisbane and Australian film scene move?
“For me, I want to see all of the creative people backing themselves more. Australia wise, I want to see more comedy. I want to one day see an Australian TV comedy show that doesn’t overuse Australian cliches. I want to see Australia being universally funny.” – Archie
“I think we need more up and coming people supporting each other. At the end of the day, that’s the future and we are all going to be working together one day.” – Sam
Dream project to get off the ground or collaboration?
“I would love to work on a proper Hollywood / Marvel set just to see how it runs. Just watching from preproduction to postproduction to see the flow of things and how they operate. Secondly, starting my own production company. Even if it’s just a photography studio with editing suites at the back. Just a place where we can meet and work together as a creative industry.” – Sam
“I would want to make a feature film. Also, just working with certain people. I would love to be in a writer’s room with Larry David. Even just a conversation with someone like Taika Waititi. I find him so inspiring as someone who comes from somewhere like Australia and keeps his exact same style.” – Archie
Anyone you want to shoutout?
“Shoutout Abib and his family. It’s not an easy thing to allow people with cameras into your home. Also, the rest of the crew on the doco. Our soundie Lachlan Womrwelll, editor Cooper Huzing and our director of photography Adam Potts.” – Archie
“Big ups to Archie as well. Just his work ethic and planning it all was crazy.” – Sam
All these incredible black and white photos were shot by Finn Negrello.