Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, the film God Grew Tired of Us tells the story of three Sudanese refugees who emigrate to the US.
John, Daniel and Panther were part of the 25,000 “Lost Boys” who fled war-torn Sudan, walking for five years to get to a Kenyan refugee camp after the outbreak of the second Sudanese civil war in 1983. Travelling barefoot across the sub-Saharan desert, the three had formed surrogate families and were conflicted about starting their new life while their families remained in Sudan. They were among the 4,000 young men selected to start a new life in the US. During the next four years, the cameras visit the men every other month, rotating their visits between Syracuse, New York and Pittsburgh, where their three had settled.
From refrigerators, lams and alarm clocks to canned cream and supermarket aisles full of cat and dog food, the everyday objects that Americans take for granted were a confusing new discovery for the young men who had lived with literally nothing in recent years but the clothes on their backs.
One year on and John was working at a factory during the day and at McDonalds at night. Daniel was processing cheques for a bank and Panther was a bus boy at a hotel. Although always busy, the boys faced an increasing sense of loneliness and isolation. They lament that Americans work so hard they don’t get to spend a lot of time with their friends and family, and they compare this to their own Dinka culture in South Sudan where family and friendship are the most important things and earning money only secondary. Once the boys find their footing, they don’t get comfortable with their new lives, instead turning their attentions back to helping their friends and family in Africa. Working through channels of relief agencies, many of the young men began to make inquiries about family members whom they had not seen for more than a decade.
The 86 minute documentary ends on a happy note when John Bul was not only able to find his family living in a Ugandan refugee camp, but he was able to bring both his mother and sister to live with him in the United States, completing a circle that had been broken by the terror of the Sudanese war.
What is remarkable about this film is its incredible optimism and resilience of the young men despite all the suffering and sadness they knew for so many years. The clashing of the old Dinka traditions and the modern American culture that now dominates their lives makes intriguing footage. Because the boys regard that the important are things in life are those that money cannot buy, they have a complete lack of bitterness about the inequality of their new life in the US compared to the one they had back in Sudan.
Narrated by Nicole Kidman, the film educates about the plight of the Sudanese people but it also proves to be entertaining and compelling viewing. It also reminds us that money is not the direct route to happiness, rather family, friends and community that make for a happy life.
South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan in July 2011 following decades of struggle by the ‘Africans’ in the South against the rule of the Arabic North.
Sudan has long been afflicted by conflict. Two rounds of north-south civil war cost the lives of 1.5 million people, and a continuing conflict in the western region of Darfur has driven two million people from their homes and killed more than 200,000 people. In Darfur the United Nations has accused pro-government Arab militias of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arab locals.
The splitting up of Africa’s biggest country into two separate countries has left a fraught and dangerous border dispute behind, complicated by the existence of massive oil wealth in the country. The Nuba Mountains sit in the middle of those problems in the disputed Sudanese province of South Kordofan. Some experts worry the conflict could escalate into another war.
South Sudan, which is larger than Spain and Portugal combined, is one of the world's poorest regions with hardly any roads, railways, schools or clinics as a result of the twenty years of conflict leading up to its independence. Sudan exports billions of dollars of oil per year. Southern states produce more than 80% of it, but receive only 50% of the revenue.
Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in Sudan. The residents of war-affected Darfur and South Sudan are still greatly dependent on food aid. Far more than in northern states, which tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.
The official website includes a preview of the movie, where to buy/rent/watch a screening, a blog, and where to go and what to do to learn more and to take action on the issues raised in the movie.