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Film show Sudanese boys’ plight

MATT JAMES Of the Record staff
The subjects of God Grew Tired of Us, watch fireworks in the film. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.
3God-Grew-Tired

When Christopher Quinn set out to make his film, he had a fairly simple aim.

"The whole purpose of the original idea," he said, "was to put a face on this whole group of immigrants from Africa We wanted to have a very personal portrait film about how amazing the Kakuma [boys] and amazing their story is."

The result of his efforts is his documentary film, "God Grew Tired of Us," which is currently screening in the American Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival.

"We all wanted to do a story on Africa and that Africa was long forgotten by the mainstream media," Quinn explained.

He said he discovered his subject when he heard about the story of the "Lost Boys," of the Kakuma refugee camp. Driven from their homes and orphaned by the Sudanese civil war in the late 1980s, a group of nearly 25,000 had set out on foot to find safety, and in 1992, those who survived settled in the camp in Kakuma.

In 1999, the U.S. government agreed to accept 3,600 Lost Boys into America, and soon Quinn’s story began.

"I spent two weeks walking around New York knowing that I wanted to do it," he said, "and then we started."

But the task, he said, was a tough one. Aside from the usual challenges of finding funding and completing a team to make the film, Quinn also had to organize a way to transport his crew to Africa and reach the camps, but eventually his team reached Kakuma in the summer of 2001 ready to document several of the boys’ experiences.

That process started with a forerunner.

"We actually sent somebody early to the camp to scout," said Quinn.

That person found one of the main characters, Daniel Abul Pach. The crew found another, Panther Bior, when they arrived and Quinn said he and his team picked out John Bul Dau when they saw him looking after a boy in need. They became the subjects of the documentary.

"From then [on] we went in and filmed their lives in the camps in anticipation of their movie to America," said Quinn.

After two weeks in the camps, the group left for the United States. Narrated by Nicole Kidman, the film follows their boys on that trip, through their discovery of technology and to their new homes. There, the documentarians revisited the boys, making week-long visits to one boy every other month for four years, rotating the visits between the boys, who settled in Pittsburgh, Penn., and Syracuse, N.Y.

The film shows the three boys’ growth, evolution and struggles as they adjust to a completely new way of life and a completely new culture.

Quinn noted that the boys’ journey across the Atlantic and later, into their new lives put the filmmakers in an interesting place. While he and the rest of the crew appreciated the need for a certain amount of distance between themselves and the boys, they also appreciated the needs of the boys. Because they knew Quinn and because they were in such a foreign situation they asked him questions, and he felt he should answer them.

"The set of circumstances was so unusual," he said.

While a degree of objectivity was possible among the multitudes in Kakuma, he noted, such objectivity was almost impossible with the tiny group together aboard the flight to America. Because of that, and later, because of his fairly regular visits, Quinn said he became friends with the boys now young men.

After four years of filming and editing, Quinn said that with his trip to the Sundance Film Festival, he was happy to see the film reaching the world and opening the eyes of those who see it. Sundance, he noted, was a perfect forum for its premiere. He said he could see the film beginning to gain the notice of the people and the press, which was drawing attention to the plight in Sudan a country torn apart by civil war, religious strife and the brutal repression of rebel uprisings.

"I really look at Sudan as a modern-day Holocaust," said Quinn. "It seems like the West just doesn’t know about it."

But, he noted, as people have seen the devastation in the area, they have understood the country’s plight. Quinn noted the Tuesday night screening of the film in Salt Lake City.

"Last night’s screening was just amazing," he said.

There, John Bul, talked about the clinic he was working to build near the refugee camp in Kenya, for which he had raised $95,000 of the $110,000 he needed. Quinn said that on the way out of the auditorium, a woman from Texas handed him a check for Bul; at first he said, he thought it was for $25. It was for $25,000.

"We had a really great day yesterday," emphasized Quinn.

Ultimately, he said he hoped to bring the film to even bigger audiences.

"I always looked at this film to reach as many people as is possible," he said.

And so far, even aside from donations, the documentary has done well.

"I think everyone’s been responding really well to the film," he said. "We’re really excited about that."

For more information about Sundance Film Festival Films, go to http://www.sundance.org.


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