After being forced out of their native country of Sudan due to a violent civil war, three men, John, Daniel and Panther, must survive along with many of their fellow countrymen in refugee camps set up across the border in Kenya. In their early teens at the time, all three boys arrive to the camp shadows of their former selves, heavily malnourished and on the verge of death. Although they recovered, what was hoped to be a temporary safe-haven turned into a permanent home as their country’s civil war fueled on. Ten years later, John, Daniel and Panther found themselves still in the same camp. Catching a rare break, the three boys, now men, were given the opportunity to leave the camp and move to the United States as part of a refugee relocation program.
Director Christopher Dillon Quinn’ documentary follows these extraordinary men as they leave behind their friends and family and attempt to integrate themselves into a new completely foreign world. These Lost Boys of Sudan have never used electricity, a flush toilet or even heard the word “apartment.” The film’s best sequences are those showing the men’s first experiences with these never before seen inventions. For example, Quinn shows their first time in a grocery store as they ask a barrage of questions to one of the supermarket clerks. Another brief scene shows one of the men washing his hands, arms and face with Gillette shaving cream.
While these sequences are humorous, the men do face many challenges in this new world which they must overcome, such as finding stable work and earning enough money to not only provide for themselves, but for their friends and families back home. At one point, one of the men works three jobs in order to save up as much money as possible.
The film is incredibly honest in its approach to the material, and Quinn’s devotion to the men and their cause is clearly evident in his careful control of the mood of each scene and sequence. While including the humorous sequences to draw in the audience, Quinn does not jeopardize the importance of the men’s story by making their plight seem comical.
One of the film’s most powerful scenes is found when John is reunited with his mother after more than fifteen years. All of the men have lost contact with family members and Daniel, at the time of filming, still had yet to find any member of his family. The genuineness of all three of the men is refreshing as their word is their bond and despite their gradual integration into American culture, they still retain many aspects of their traditions and stay focused on their goals to help their fellow Sudanese. The closing scene makes this obvious as John is the first of the men to return to Africa. The closing statements also tell us how two of the men have already set up clinics or programs back in Sudan.Quinn has told a compelling story that while not as engaging as the best documentaries such as Born into Brothels or The Fog of War, still is an important and relevant story today especially with the dismal situation found in Darfur.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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