glyph 396: film, movie, documentary, review ... Sudan, Africa, abandoned children, refugee camps . diaspora ... Steve Forness, CatchFire Café, newsletter ... Peter McLaughlin, Martin Seligman ... loyalty, resilience, happiness, sense of purpose, sense of connection ... "lost boys of Sudan"


"God Grew Tired of Us", a Film

Reviewed by Steve Forness in the CatchFire Café Newsletter

At - "feed your brain", a website of Peter McLaughlin's, film critic, Steve Forness, writes:

Think about the conveniences of our life in the United States: refrigerators, flush toilets, central heating, supermarkets, public transportation, packaged food, cable television — all things that we use, but for the most part, never think about. The documentary God Grew Tired of Us, will, among other things, change that. It is by no means the central thesis of this film, but it's a running commentary, hilarious, yet poignant, of what it takes to survive in our culture, especially at the beginner's level.

This film is about the lost boys of Sudan. Most of us have glimpsed television news accounts or skimmed newspaper or magazine articles on the lost boys but have no idea how remarkable their story has been. However virtuous we may feel afterwards, this is not a do-gooder film. It's not a plea for action. It is not a case for better understanding among peoples. It's not a brief for change. At its most essential level, this documentary is about happiness. As Peter McLaughlin and the psychologist, Martin Seligman, will tell you, happiness derives from a sense of purpose and a sense of connection. The three young men from Sudan in this film depict happiness in ways their experience would never lead us to predict.

The title of the documentary is a quote from one of the young men, interviewed after a few months of living in the United States, he reflects back on his life both in Sudan and then in a series of refugee camps in Kenya and elsewhere. Sudanese civil strife led to an order to kill all males over the age of 9, thus uprooting thousands of boys and young men from their rural villages. Scenes of this diaspora are interspersed throughout the film, as streams of boys flee down dusty roads to join what ultimately becomes a 1000-mile trek to safety in refugee camps. They leave behind families, serene rural life, and even identity for what becomes more than decade-long encampment. Most have little news and only distant memory of mothers, fathers, and sisters. As in Peter Pan, however, they become their own families.

A select few are eventually chosen for relocation from their refugee camp to the United States; and the three young men we follow to Syracuse, NY and Pittsburgh, PA are emblematic at this experience. Shown at one moment in tearful goodbyes in the parched Savannah of the refugee camp from which they depart, they find themselves the next moment only a couple of days later in urban America, being introduced to apartment living. In short order, they must negotiate the wonders of modern appliances including alarm clocks, vast supermarkets filled with strange foods, job searches in industries they could scarcely imagine, and a choice of winter clothes.

On camera interviews over the course of their adjustment to America are initially tinged with the loneliness of separation from their homeland. As viewers, however, we also gradually become more conscious of the heavy responsibility they continue to bear -- they feel compelled to succeed on behalf of the family of lost brothers they have left behind. We begin to find ourselves with an entirely different, unexpected sense of these young men. It is not just compassion for their plight, it is not just admiration for their resilience, for lives lived in the moment, for a defining sense of purpose — it is envy. Three printed messages appear on the darkened screen at the end of this documentary. They reveal how things eventually turned out for each of the three lost boys. By then, we are not surprised.

CatchFire Café's film critic, Steve Forness, was a professor and hospital school principal in the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute where several years ago, child and adolescent refugees from Central America were treated for post-traumatic stress and related disorders after civil wars in their country.
July 22, 2007; edited/updated November 26, 2015

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