The Making of SALAY

Mourning the sudden loss of her mother, eighteen year old Salay is intent on pursuing her education and carving out her own path in life. Desperate to escape the profound cultural pressures and extreme poverty of her father’s village, a long-lost uncle offers her a place in his city home and access to a good education at his expense. She accepts with little knowledge of her uncle, a ‘businessman’ who deals in girl- child trafficking, and risks losing everything she knows for what seems like a perfect opportunity. This is a coming-of-age story of one strong-willed teenager fighting for what she wants. But at what cost?

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SALAY was filmed entirely in a remote region of Sierra Leone with a limited budget, little access to electricity, and an untrained cast and crew from the rural communities where filming took place. Writer, producer and director Ali Kamanda mentored all participants with pre-production workshops to prepare for the shoot. After a month of acting workshops, rehearsals and technical run-throughs, production was underway. However the production of SALAY was met with a laundry list of setbacks, eventually turning the feature into a short film that took two years to complete.

The first attempt to film SALAY took place in 2010, but a number of setbacks caused filming to be suspended. However this shoot ultimately provided Kamanda with enough material for a trailer that helped garner support for the project. See the trailer and photos from the original 2010 production below:

During the second attempt to film SALAY in 2011, Kamanda met with more delays and difficulties. These culminated in a dramatic and violent event on set that caused him to permanently shut down production. With only a week remaining in the shoot, an actor hit an actress in the head over a disagreement about dressing room space, rendering her unconscious and gasping for air. Kamanda rushed the actress to the emergency room in his production vehicle where she was placed on oxygen and awoke hours later, diagnosed with a severe concussion. Ironically, during the production of a film meant to depict the plight and complexity of women’s lives in Sierra Leone, a young girl’s life was placed in danger. For her protection and to demonstrate zero tolerance for violence against women, completion of the feature-length film was permanently canceled.

After attempting to shoot SALAY twice over the course of two years, and after being in Sierra Leone for two months longer than planned, Kamanda returned to the United States thinking his labor-of-love project would never be completed. However upon reviewing his footage he realized that the entire first half of the original script could be edited together as a short film. Kamanda emerged from the editing room with the film that we now know as SALAY. We never see what happens after Salay leaves home with her uncle for the big city, but maybe that is better left to our imaginations anyway.

The violent act that occurred during production reflected the very subject matter of the film and reminds us that there is a dire need for stories like this to be told. Violence and child trafficking is prevalent in developing countries and it is not always an elaborate scheme of abduction and corruption. It often goes unnoticed in regions with extreme poverty, limited resources and little to no protective agencies. Yet the nations of Africa are full of beautiful, intelligent, hard working young women who strive daily for a better life. SALAY is just one girl’s story.

Kamanda hopes that this film will help raise awareness and further ignite efforts to empower women and decrease human trafficking in Sierra Leone and worldwide.