Wednesday, April 14, 2010
It's hard to imagine a country that's been at war for as long as you've been alive, but Sudan, which includes the states of Darfur, has seen almost continuous civil war since 1956, the year I was born. In that year, British colonial powers left an autocratic Arab minority in the northern city of Khartoum in charge of the largest country on the African continent. It wasn't long before the black majority rose up against their "foreign" rulers.
In the 1980s, war reached the southern villages of three boys who are the subjects of Jenna Marlowe's documentary "Rebuilding Hope." Koor Garang, Gabriel Bol Deng and Garang Mayuol didn't know one another at the time, but as they saw their villages burned and their families slaughtered, the boys joined the millions of refugees—mostly children—escaping the bloodshed that has taken 2 million lives.
The boys eventually ended up in northern Kenya in 1991, after fleeing from yet another war in Ethiopia where they first settled. In the Kakuma II Refugee Camp in Kenya, the three "lost boys" first met and became friends. All three applied to come to the United States in 2001, and ended up scattered across the country: Koor went to Tuscon, Ariz., Garang to Chicago, and Gabriel to Syracuse, N.Y.
The second of Sudan's civil wars ended in 2005 after 22 years, and the boys—now men who had kept in contact over the years—planned a return to their country. Koor, studying to be a nurse, wanted to provide medical supplies and mosquito nets to the still-impoverished villages near his home. Gabriel, now a college graduate, wanted to build a school. Garang simply wanted to find his mother, but joins the others in 2007 in wholehearted support of their projects.
"Rebuilding Hope" is thin on historical details; there are enough books and films that chronicle the politics and devastation of war in Sudan, and the film skillfully blends images of the country's beauty with the wreckage of war. The film's deep richness, however, emerges in the eyes of the three young men, the power and vibrancy of reunions, and even in disappointment as they realize that they haven't brought nearly enough supplies for the hungry and sick population.
Marlowe makes no overt attempts at tugging viewer's heartstrings; still, this is a powerful film about hope. Hope that this time, the fragile peace will last. It's about returning to people that never left the affections of these three, a connection so profound that they cannot deny it, even after 20 years. It's also about facing realities after years of hoping things couldn't really be as bad as they are
"I believe my mom really, and my dad … they know what I'm doing," Gabriel says after he learns his parents are both dead. "... There is no better way to honor them than really, to help people and contributing to making life better in Ariang village."
The screening of "Rebuilding Hope" is Sunday, April 18, at 1 p.m.