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Sudanese refugees search for a better life
Immigrant dreams

Review by Josh Gryniewicz | June 4, 2004 | Page 9

Lost Boys of Sudan, directed by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk.

LOST BOYS of Sudan, a documentary by the producer/director team Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk, is a heartbreaking work. Its limited engagement, targeting areas with a high population of Sudanese immigrants, seeks to do more than create awareness about the hardships they face, trying to connect refugee youth with local advocacy groups.

The film centers on two Sudanese youth, Peter and Santino, members of the Dinka tribe trying to make a life for themselves in America.

The conflict in Sudan has been called one of the cruelest civil wars in Africa's history. In the war with the official Muslim Sudanese government in the north, more than 2 million of the indigenous people in the south have been killed, and an estimated 4 million people have been dislocated, as a result of ethnic cleansing, famine and disease.

Some 20,000 orphans--dubbed by aid groups as the "Lost Boys" after Peter Pan's parentless crew--escaped death or enslavement by the Northern Army to make an arduous journey to a United Nations refugee camp in Kenya. Over half perished, claimed by lions, crocodiles or militia bullets, or overwhelmed with hunger, disease and dehydration.

Lost Boys of Sudan concerns itself with the story that follows these atrocities, of alienation, assimilation and disillusionment as they are relocated in the U.S. As the boys prepare to leave the camp, they're told they represent the "future of Sudan." Another man congratulates the boys, telling them that America must be "heaven on earth"--a variation of the lofty dreams immigrants throughout history have had of the "land of the free."

The film takes apart this myth through casual observations in the boys' everyday lives. Santino says that he feels ashamed of his dark skin. Peter admits, "American money has become so sweet to us," as he chides Santino on how little he's sent back home--only to then say that his money might be better spent on a used car. Their sense of community, expressed in open intimacies (it's common for boys to walk hand-in-hand or affectionately hug one another in Dinka culture), is abandoned for fear of appearing homosexual.

These events affirm not only American intolerance but the stripping away of those communal values that helped the "lost boys" survive the unimaginable.

The film concludes with a vague sense of hope for the "future of Sudan" if only in the threads of communal tradition that live on in the youths. Santino speaks optimistically about a correspondence course for electricians so that he may bring electricity back to his home. Peter poses for graduation pictures, having encountered incredible resistance getting into high school in the first place.

And their story itself puts a face to the 14 million refugees worldwide and the continued ethnic cleansing in Sudan.

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