“We Never Gave Up: Stories of Courage in Gambia

A Louise Hunt & Jason Florio Production for Amnesty International

the trailer

At the end of last year, we were commissioned by Amnesty International, West Africa, to make a documentary about the human rights defenders, and activists, who worked tirelessly, and often at their own risk, to stand up for those who had been abused and tortured – including working for the families of those who had ‘disappeared‘ – under the 22-year dictatorship of President Yahya Jammeh.

Screen-grab from documentary: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, whereby the majority of the country voted him out
Screen-grab from documentary trailer: Dec 2016, Yahya Jammeh goes live on air to rescind the recent elections, after the majority of the country voted him out

 

Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, at his printing press
Director of Photography/Co-Producer, Jason Florio, with Foroyaa newspaper editor, Samuel Sarr, in his printing press. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

Having traveled, lived, and worked, over the last 20 years, on various assignments and personal projects, in the Gambia, Florio and I were always aware of its dark underbelly. We heard ‘the stories‘ of abuse, torture, disappearances, murder even. And, in a country which depends largely on tourism – the pull of beautiful sandy beaches, year-long sunshine, languorous boat trips on the River Gambia, technicolored sunsets – you’d be extremely hard pushed, if you only visited for a holiday, to have any notion at all of the graveness of what was going on, in the small West Africa country.

Jugana, one of the victims of Jammeh's torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio
Jugana Suso, a victim of Jammeh’s torturous regime, being filmed by Jason Florio ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

For 22 years, we documented Gambians living in a climate of fear. Their rights were denied and many were subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, and widespread surveillance. But even in those dark days, there were people brave enough to stand up and challenge the abuse of power.” 

Screen-grab from the documentary #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio
Screen-grab from the documentary trailer #GambiaHasDecided, Bakau ©Jason Florio

“Whether they were journalists, human rights lawyers, community leaders, young activists or victims of abuses, they never gave up. Our film portrays their stories, showing the world a lesson that what happened in Gambia is proof of the power and change that human rights defenders can bring about.Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Regional Director.

Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home ©Helen Jones-Florio
Preparing to interview Imam Baba Leigh at his home – a former prisoner and victim of torture – with sound man, Pa Ebou Sossey ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)
Jason Florio filming at the Foroyaa newspaper print shop ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

Human rights lawyers: L-R ©Helen Jones-Florio
Human rights lawyers, with their client, Jugana Suso: L-R: Hawa Sisay Sabally, Rachel Yvonne Mendy, Juguna Suso, Yassin Sanghor © Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

 

The facilitators of the #GambiaHasDecided campaign ©Helen Jones-Florio
The inspiring people behind the far-reaching and incredibly influential #GambiaHasDecided campaign – Lamin Saidykhan, Gilleh Thomas, Asta Jobe, Salieu Taal ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Filming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-FlorioFilming human rights lawyer, xxxx, in her home © Helen Jones-Florio
Filming human rights lawyer, Yassin Sanghor at in her home © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Car bumper sticker '#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio
Car bumper sticker ‘#MyTribeIsGambian © Helen Jones-Florio

 

To have all those stories,  Jammeh’s reign of fear and terror,  Florio and I had only heard whispers about over the years (until April 2016, when Gambians came to the streets to protest after the death in custody of activist Solo Sandeng), our Gambian friends only ever spoke sotto voce about what was going on, confirmed by those who had actually lived them was both incredibly disturbing and humbling. Now, with a new president, they have the freedom to speak out, have their voices heard.

Louise Hunt, write and co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffy J's Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio
Louise Hunt, writer/co-producer, interviews Salieu Taal (#GambiaHasDecided), Saffie J’s Restaurant, Bakau ©Helen Jones-Florio (2nd Camera)

We are truly thankful to every single person who shared their experiences, those who worked with us on the documentary, and Amnesty International for inviting us to make the documentary, in a place that we feel is a second home.

The Florios

Photos Tell Stories – documentary, photography, travel

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa
Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, The Gambia, West Africa

 

Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels / @jasonflorio for updates on

when and where you can see the full documentary

 

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