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God Grew Tired of Us
“Lost Boys” Documentary Soars
by Mel Valentin on Jan 18, 2007
Directed by Christopher Quinn and Tommy Walker, God Grew Tired of Us follows several "Lost Boys", Sudanese refugees, from a Kenyan refugee camp to the United States and their experiences here over the course of five years as they struggle to learn American culture, overcome self-doubt and survivor's guilt, obtain employment (and go to school), all while holding on tenuously to hope of reuniting with their families and friends.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and narrated by Nicole Kidman, the film smartly allows the Lost Boys to speak for themselves about their experiences. Non-judgmental about Sudan or international politics, God Grew Tired of Us is the kind of polemic-free, but nonetheless heartrending, documentary that has been in short supply in recent years.
God Grew Tired of Us gives us both the macro and the micro views of recent Sudanese history. As the British Empire ended its control over its African colonies, North and South Sudan were combined into one country. Troubled relations between the Arab, Muslim North and the mostly African, Christian or animist South dissolved into civil war in 1983. In 1987, more than 25,000 boys separated from their families fled Southern Sudan. Over the next five years, they walked more than 1,000 miles. More than half didn’t survive the grueling journey that eventually led them to Kakuma, Kenya and a refugee camp operated by the United Nations Commission for Refugees. The “Lost Boys” were housed, fed (often sporadically), and given a rudimentary education. But they could neither return to Southern Sudan (where they faced persecution or death) nor leave the camp. Almost a decade later, 3,800 refugees were selected under a program administered by the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Charities International to relocate to the United States.
God Grew Tired of Us focuses primarily on three Lost Boys, John Bul Dau, Daniel Abul Pach, and Panther Bior, as they leave the Kakuma refugee camp in August 2001, board their first plane to Nairobi Kenya with eighty-seven other boys, then take an international flight to Brussels, Belgium, and eventually, to the United States. John Bul Dau, a natural leader in the camp due to his height, age, and personality, is relocated to Syracuse, New York. Daniel Abul Pach and Panther Bior are relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Given only three months of federal assistance, all three must find work and repay the U.S. government for the flight from Kenya to the United States. John ends up working two, sometimes three jobs, postponing college to help his family (they’ve been found in a refugee camp in Uganda). Daniel gets a night job at a bank and Panther gets a job as a bus boy at a downtown hotel.All three inevitably experience the problems typical to immigrants, culture shock, isolation, loneliness, and homesickness. As refugees, however, they face additional problems, most of them emotional (e.g., survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder).
While the contours of God Grew Tired of Us are certainly familiar, e.g., the struggles of immigrants/refugees to adjust to new environs, what's praiseworthy isn't necessarily the subjects Quinn and Walker selected to follow for the documentary, but the quiet, almost imperceptible manner in which they prove a larger point about the often unacknowledged value of non-governmental organizations like the United Nations and its refugee-focused programs or the International Rescue Committee program. The programs may be imperfect as John, Daniel, Panther, and others candidly admit, but a world without them would be a crueler, less hopeful place.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Jan 18, 2007