DOASKDOTELL Movie Reviews of films about African Students and atrocities in Africa

 

The Boys of Baraka (2005, ThinkFilm, dir, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 84 min, sug PG) documents the year spent by a number of African American middle school boys from inner city Baltimore at a private boarding school in Kenya. They live without television, computers and even electricity (certainly no movies!) and focus on practical skills and academics, and their skills improve enormously. The film shows the emotional makeup of the boys and the degree of teacher commitment to work with them through their problems. The school is closed then because of international problems. The film is digital video and only 4:3 aspect ratio. There is a partial climb of snow-capped Mount Kenya.

 

Lost Boys of Sudan (2003, Shadow/PBS POV/Actual, dir. Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk, 87 min, sug. PG, in Eng and Swahili subt) documents a two young men (Peter Dut and Santino Chuor) who come to Houston, TX from civil-war-torn Sudan, after escaping to a refugee camp in Kenya. They adjust to high school, taking ESOL courses and then doing well in traditional math and science courses, learn to drive, go to work in a manufacturing assembly line job, pay the rent. At one point they wind up in traffic court and another time they have to straighten out missed bills because of inexperience with a financial system. But they turn out well, reading for college. This was an important international documentary in its year.

 

God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan (2006, NewMarket/Silver Nitrate/National Geographic, dir. Christopher Dillon Quinn, Tommy Walker, narrator: Nicole Kidman, 83 min, PG, p-5/r-1/a-3) is a theatrical sequel to the first POV film, made with a lot more resources. Four teenagers, including John Bul Dau and Daniel Abul Pach, have hiked a thousand miles across the Sudan to escape the Civil War in the late 80s and wind up in Kenya. They are able to get new lives in Syracuse, NY and Pittsburgh, PA as part of the Lost Boys program. The film documents their adaptation to more individualistic and mechanized American culture, starting with simple household things in their apartments and in the supermarket. The boys are surprised to find that Americans spend much more time alone and are suspicious of strangers, especially in large groups (which we associate with gangs in America). They get minimum wage jobs and start working their way up. John starts to grasp western Christianity, after asking if Santa is in the Bible, when he says war happens when God gets tired of people sinning so much, and then has to question his beliefs. John starts to look for his family, and finally learns that his mother and younger siblings are alive. He delays going to college and takes two other part-time jobs in order to send them money. He eventually goes back to Africa and is reunited with them, and then he marries and is able to bring some people back. But what is interesting here is the biological family loyalty. He is not free just to pursue his own ends in America without trying to take care of younger siblings first, a reality in many poorer families that does not find its way cleanly into today's debate on "family values" or morality. His story sounds like a first-hand lesson in the idea that family responsibility does not always depend on having your own kids first. John makes the comment then that Sudan's leaders look after their own families but not their own people. That sort of rips open the circle on moral debate.

 

Visually, the film is stunning, with on location photography in the Sudan, on the Nile, and in Kenya, as well in Syracuse and hilly Pittsburgh.    

 

The Devil Came on Horseback ("Jangaweed", 2007, International Film Circuit / Break Thru, dir. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg) is a documentary made by photographer and former Marine Brian Steible of the genocide of blacks in Darfur in western Sudan, deliberately fostered by the power hungry Muslim Sudanese government. Blogger discussion

 

Darfur Now (2007, Warner Independent Pictures / Participant, dir. Ted Braun, 99 min) is a slick documentary about the Darfur problem with appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Don Cheadle. More details are at the blogger entry given above.

 

On Our Watch (2007, PBS/Frontline, dir. Neil Dochterig) discusses Darfur, especially the activism of Eric Reeves and Mia Farrow, as well as attempts to label the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as the "Genocide Olympics." See blogger reference above.

 

War Dance (2007, ThinkFilm / Sundance Channel / Shine Global, dir. Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, 105 min) documents refugee children in Uganda competing in a music competition in Kampala. Detailed review on blogger here.

 

We Are Together: The Children of Agape Choir (“Thina Simunye”, Picturehouse / HBO / BBC4, dir. Paul Taylor, 83 min, PG, UK) Orphans in South Africa (orphaned by AIDS) sing and travel to Britain and US to rebuild their community. Blogger

 

CNN: Where Have the Parents Gone? (2007, CNN Special Investigations Unit). Christiane Amanpour reports on children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya.  Blogger discussion here.

 

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