Man filming two women doing chores
How Do You Have a Happy Life | Behind the scenes  © Nova Studios

International Collaboration

Hull has a long tradition of cultural exchange, reaching far beyond this year’s City of Culture festivities and back to its time at the forefront of British maritime trade. In 1979, a new form of intercontinental collaboration was established when Hull “twinned” with Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone in West Africa.

Town-twinning is a practice dating back centuries, enacted by local governments as a means of encouraging cultural and social interaction between societies. The choice to pair Hull and Sierra Leone has its roots in the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, which was initiated by Hull MP William Wilberforce and resulted in British naval ships patrolling Sierra Leone in the first half of the 19th century. Since then these links have been closely fostered, and over the past 30 years, a number of churches, schools and residents from Hull and Sierra Leone have come together to celebrate their special relationship.

The City Belongs to Everyone

Hull’s selection as the 2017 City of Culture provided an opportunity to throw a spotlight on the ongoing partnership. As part of its winning bid, Hull 2017 commissioned video production company Nova Studios to make a film, entitled The City Belongs to Everyone, which was narrated by actor Sir Tom Courtenay and features a selection of interviews with residents unified by their common connection to Hull. This year, the organisation commissioned African filmmaker and youth activist Lansana Mansaray (AKA Barmmy Boy) to remake the film in Sierra Leone. Mansaray’s version featured clips of Freetown residents, similarly outlining the diversity that defines the city. Watch both the original film and the remake below.

Image of a scene being filmed at home.
How do you have a happy life | Behind the Scenes © Nova Studios
Filming scenes at home. Two woman appear to dance in living room.
How do you have a happy life | Behind the Scenes © Nova Studios
Model stood in front of pink, yellow and blue fabric.
House of Kings and Queens © Lee Price

A Happy Life

Another project born out of this year’s celebrations is A Happy Life. Once again commissioned by Hull 2017 and created by Nova Studios, a series of films looked at the daily lives of ordinary residents of Hull and their counterparts in Freetown, interviewing them while they were at work and asking them the same question: how do you have a happy life? Many Sierra Leoneans have suffered through violence and poverty, and these films are an inspirational reminder of the resilience and positivity often associated with the country’s residents. You can read more about the project by visiting the link at the bottom of the page.

The House of Kings and Queens

Furthering the collaboration between the two cities, this summer Hull’s Humber Street Gallery welcomed a new exhibition by social documentary photographer Lee Price. Entitled The House of Kings and Queens, the exhibition offers an insight into life in a house of the same name, owned by a young transgender woman and home to members of Freetown’s LGBT community. The photographs present the house as an oasis, whose residents are sheltered from the oppression and persecution of the world outside. Above are a couple of installation shots, but you can see the films and read a Q&A with Lee Price by visiting the link at the bottom of the page.

All of these projects present an opportunity both to celebrate the differences between the cities of Hull and Sierra Leone and highlight the many similarities that unite them. The activities that have taken place this year have brought these cities ever closer, and mark the beginning of a new phase of collaboration that will continue to grow in the years to come.

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