Documentary honors 35,000 slaves in northern Sudan
Nine years ago, Tanya Taylor started down a road of discovery and activism spurred by meeting Solomon Awan and Gabriel Atem, two out of more than 20,000 youths who were orphaned by the Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005.
The friendship that formed between the Park City-based musician and the two “Lost Boys of Sudan” resulted in a podcast and a musical, “Sudan and Me,” which premiered in Park City in February.
The latest project by Taylor inspired by the war is a documentary film titled “Documentary: #35,000.”
The title is in reference of the 35,000 women and children who were abducted by the Northern Sudanese Soldiers, the Murahaleen,” Taylor said.
“These soldiers would pick up women and children from South Sudan and forced them into slavery in the north,” she said.
Most of the victims were forced to change their names, convert to Islam and were abused by their masters, according to Taylor.
The idea for the documentary film was spurred by Taylor’s creation of the main character of “Sudan and Me,” named Adut.
“We wrote a song in the musical called ‘Fly’ and it was sung from Adut’s perspective of what happened to her and the others who were abducted,” Taylor said.
While researching to write a backstory for Adut, Taylor came across a report by the now-defunct Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC), which introduced her to the missing 35,000.
“Even though there have been numerous organizations that have tried to help save these women and children, many of them have never been heard from again,” she said.
The situation keeps Taylor up at night, she said.
“It’s hard to think that we in the United States can live our pretty entitled lives while there are these women and children who live in such dire circumstances every day,” she said.
As Taylor dove deeper into her research, she discovered human rights activist Dr. John Eibner, a member of Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a global organization that gives aid to victims of religious oppression and natural disasters.
Through his work, Eibner helped liberate several of these slaves, Taylor said.
“One of these women was Achol Yum Deng, who was freed 15 years after she was abducted,” Taylor said. “The documentary focuses on her liberation, and how we can work together to help the others.”
Taylor was also touched by Eibner’s testimonies to Congress about Deng.
“She was gang raped and lost an eye when she was thrashed with a whip for not performing Islamic rituals correctly,” Taylor said. “She lost the use of one of her arms when her master used a machete to punish her for not grinding grain properly. And she, who was a mother of four, watched as two of her children were beaten to death as punishment for committing misdemeanor crimes.”
Eibner said so many are still enslaved because they’ve been forgotten.
“Under oath, he testified that there is no vested interest from any of the world powers, and until people start to raise their voices, this will not change,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who wrote the script, began working on the seven-minute film three months ago with her then-fiance, now husband Todd Bigatel.
“We submitted the film to a website called MusicBed, and the stipulation was we had to use some of their music in our films within a six- to 10-minute time frame,” Taylor said. “It went from there.”
Taylor was also able to use a rearrangement of her song “Fly,” which was sung by 35 women, a majority who live in Park City and Summit County.
Some noted appearances include Lisa Nedham from the duo Park 88, actress Raven Flowers and Awak Kuir Deng, one of the Lost Girls of Sudan, who now lives in Salt Lake City, Taylor said.
Viewers can also cast votes for the film on the Music Bed website in the Music Bed Challenge.
The winner will be announced in two weeks, Taylor said.
“Do I think the documentary will change things overnight? I don’t think so,” she said. “But if it can change one person’s mindset, then it is worth it.”
For information, visit tanyataylorproductions.com.
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