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Lost and found

Movies | Refugee story repackages the American Dream

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

"You'll laugh. You'll cry," is an old movie advertising cliché, but it's true in spades with the documentary God Grew Tired of Us (PG for thematic elements and some disturbing images).

The film works powerfully because it combines so many favorite themes into one story: Inspiring war survivors overcome death, loss, and the immigrant experience to seize the American Dream. Filmed over four years, it follows the lives of three "Lost Boys" from Sudan.

Approximately 27,000 Lost Boys fled southern Sudan in the late 1980s during the country's north-south civil war. As the Muslim government attacked Christian and animist villagers, it soon issued a new, Herod-like order: Kill all the male children in the south. Terrified parents sent their sons, ages 3 to 13, on a 1,000-mile long exodus to refugee camps in Ethiopia, from which the surviving 12,000 moved to Kenya. Wild animals, hostile tribesmen, disease, and starvation killed the rest during the five-year trek ("Lost young men," Aug. 11, 2001).

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After more than 10 years at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, aid workers select John Bul Dau, Panther Bior, and Daniel Abol Pach to resettle in the United States. What their first exodus packed in danger, their second journey packs in strangeness.

At first the young men have to learn to use electric lights, fridges, and flush toilets, which they have never seen. Even harder is when they learn that America can be unfriendly to strangers, and that working two and three jobs steals time from their Lost Boy family.

But the boys' resilience wins out. They work hard to send money back to friends and newly rediscovered family in Africa, and fight to finish high school and college. And it's these old-fashioned American values packaged in new, African subjects that will make the film enduring.


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