June 14, 2007

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God Grew Tired of Us (PG)
Four Sudanese boys grow into men while running from their country’s wars — first to other African countries and then to America — in God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary about the child refugees known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Nicole Kidman’s narration explains that in the late 1980s civil war broke out between the Muslim north and the Christian south of Sudan. The Muslim government decided that one way to assert its dominance over the country would be to decimate the southern population, particularly of boys — potential soldiers and fathers of the next generation. Boys of all ages ran from the murderous army into the bush and finally formed a march of thousands across the desert and into Ethiopia where they briefly found shelter in refugee camps. But then that government fell apart and the boys were back in the desert, crossing Sudan to get to Kenya. Once in Kenya, the boys found some measure of stability, but it was a meager one. They had education and clothes but still had days of no food.

Some dozen years after their trials began, some of the “boys” — young men, really, more than children — get sanction to come to America as refugees. In Manchester, a resettlement hub, we often see recent refugees, adjusting to their new life. In this documentary, we see their side of this adjustment. John, Daniel and Panther — the men the movie focuses on for most of its narrative — arrive in Pittsburgh and Syracuse (Manchester-ish in their weather and appearance) and must learn about cold, apartments, electricity and supermarkets (they seem both fascinated and horrified by what Americans eat — the food has no taste, they comment about their airplane meals; is this strange block cheese or is it soap?). These scenes of their slow Americanization make up the bulk of the movie and offer a stark contrast to their materially deprived but friendship-rich life with the other “boys” in Kenya. Their achievements (jobs, college) are impressive and seem incredibly hard-won in light of how much the men clearly want to be home, despite all the hardships that come with that. John, who was a leader of the boys back at the camp, is the leader of the story in America. We hear him talk about how he wants to use all of his American advantages to help Sudan and how his fondest wish is to find his mother again — which he does in the movie’s highly emotional ending.

There is a substantive something missing from this movie — historical context on how things got the way they did, more information on what’s happening now, some bigger-picture look at the refugee communities in Africa or America (we get all of these things but in limited doses) — something that keeps this documentary from delivering quite the punch you expect it will. Luckily, the movie has powerful storytellers in the central boys, especially John, who is able to convey the complexity of his situation better than any narration ever could. B

Rated PG for thematic elements and some disturbing images. Directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker, God Grew Tired of Us is an hour and 26 minutes long and is distributed by Newmarket Films. The film will screen on Wednesday, June 20, at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire, 698 Beech St. in Manchester, and on Thursday, June 21, at the NHTI in Concord, 31 College Drive in Sweeny Auditorium. The film will be released on DVD on Aug. 14.