In the late 80’s, after the Sudanese government declares all males of southern Sudan should be killed or rendered impotent via castration or other means, tens of thousands of male Sudanese children begin the long walk out of Sudan, traveling over 1,000 miles by foot before finally settling in the Kakuna refugee camp in Kenya. Once in the camp, they spend the next decade plus waiting, unable to return to Sudan for fear of death and unable to travel anywhere else. That is, until the United States gets wind of the attempted genocide and the resulting refugee camp and offers to relocate a few select refugees to America.
Focusing primarily on three such chosen refugees, John, Daniel and Panther, the film becomes a tale of hope and loneliness. Despite being outside of the refugee camp and given the opportunity to build new lives in America, the Lost Boys struggle with the severe culture shock and the resultant loneliness of being away from those who they had been with, as brothers and more, through all the years in Kenya. Fighting to maintain their culture in a new society that runs by a different set of rules, the Lost Boys social adaptation to America is as relative to their physical adaptations to the many landscapes they had to cross to be free of the Sudan.
Never preaching or manipulative, the film is masterful. Despite conditions that would understandably drive anyone into madness, the film doesn’t dwell on the depression, but instead explores the uplifting and positive spirit of the Lost Boys. These are survivors, after all, and it takes a certain spirit to endure their hardships and still come out of it with a smile. Watching the Lost Boys get their first tour of their apartment, and being instructed on all aspects from refrigeration to light switches, you are at once giddy with the humor of the situation and also reverent of how much you take for granted on a daily basis (I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how a light switch worked; the Lost Boys never knew a time when electricity was used for anything but bombing them). It’s in this rare balance where the film transcends normal documentary fare.
Much in the same way having a child can change your perspective (you re-live the world through your children’s eyes as they grow), so too does this film alter the daily view. When John, a devout Christian, sincerely questions the place Santa Claus has in the birth of Jesus, having never read or heard of Santa in the Bible, you too stop and question. When a group of Lost Boys, who have spent their lives traveling together, are asked to go out in smaller numbers so as not to scare the neighborhood, you begin to question your own perceptions and fears. Questioning, but at no point disrespectful, the Lost Boys present the world to us as they know it and, in the process, finally let us look at it with fresh eyes.
On a side note, the most interesting criticism/commentary offered up on the United States in this film is in regards to the work-aholic, almost anti-social nature of the day-to-day grind. As the Lost Boys slowly acclimate themselves to our work week, we see them struggle with the next to zero amount of time they get to see each other (when, in Kenya, they ate together, worked together and played together) and the pain this causes. As the hours grow long and each Boy takes a different job, they slowly drift apart regardless of their better efforts. But whereas other films, or other people, may dwell on this commentary and condemn, the Lost Boys instead question, accept that things are different and battle through it. For them, each day is indeed a miracle, and if they have to work 13 hours and not see their friends in order to live in apartment safe from bombing raids, so be it.
Visually stunning and contextually provocative, “God Grew Tired of Us” is quite simply one of the most beautiful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and is deserving of its Sundance 2006 Documentary Grand Jury prize. Intelligent, heartbreaking, uplifting, humorous and reverent, the film is an adventure in what it means to be human, and what it takes to survive in the world today, whether it be the Sudan or the United States.