Freedom, the first film produced by independent film company, Production One Inc, tells the story of two men – across two different centuries – whose lives are intertwined by the scourge of slavery and the hope of freedom.
The film, inspired by real people and actual events, opens in 1859 as Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jnr) and his family escape a plantation in Virginia by the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves, to a new life in Canada.
Canada provided freedom to 100,000 slaves of African descent in the 19th century and the film ends with sepia photos of actual families who had made that long and treacherous journey to freedom.
As we follow the Woodward family’s passage, aided by Quakers, musicians, a troupe of actors and an African American civil rights clergyman, the film takes the audience back to the early life of John Newton (Bernhard Forcher), when he was a captain of slave ships, before his dramatic conversion.
The two men, Woodward and Newton, are trapped. Woodward, despite the many people who put their own lives at risk to guide him and his family north to Canada, is angry and distrustful. Both his mother and his wife entreat him to have faith, but he is enslaved by fear.
Newton is a man haunted by his past. He has also been beaten, tied up and punished. A slave showed him kindness at a time of great desperation and he is reunited with this slave, Ozias (Jubiliant Sykes) aboard the slave ship he is sailing across the Atlantic.
Director Peter Cousens has adopted a modern version of the Greek Chorus with Ozias in the slave ship scenes, and Woodward’s wife Vanessa (Sharon Leal) in the escape scenes, providing deeply moving musical commentary as a spiritual interpretation to the physical action of the film. A Grammy nominated baritone, Jubiliant Sykes’ exquisite gospel singing is a highlight of Freedom.
This is the first feature film for Peter Cousens, founder and CEO of Production One Inc, and well known among Australians for his musical theatre credits. The newly formed production house has an impressive mission statement: to develop life affirming, values-based feature films that promote family, community and human rights. Its website says: ‘Our goal is not only to make a film but to create a network of artists and crew who share a vision to inspire the world.’
Freedom is an inspirational and uplifting film with a bigger purpose beyond entertainment. It is a story which resonates with the Christian message of hope, without turning it into smulch.
Its final credits draw attention to the fact that there are 29 million people currently living in slavery or being trafficked, the highest number of any time in history. The movie asks ‘Why does your just and merciful God condemn good people like you and me to slavery?’
A question with no easy answer, although the wise and Godly grandmother Adira, a third generation slave, looks both to the future where, she tells her son Edward, she knows freedom is, and to the present, as ‘hope can be found in the darkest of places’.
This is a film which resonates with hope as it seeks to revise the story of John Newton, the author of the world’s most well-known hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’: Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.
Review by Penny Mulvey
Freedom is in cinemas from August 21. For further details re group or church bookings, go to www.themoviefreedom.com