Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movies: War Child

This is one of the most awkward documentaries I've ever seen (right up there with Zoo), but it manages, as all tales of Sudanese Lost Boys and/or Child Soldiers must, to tear you apart in spite of itself. The story is that of Emmanuel Jal, a boy about my age who now lives in the U.K., where he raps about his childhood; his performances make up a large portion of the footage. The rest is of Sudan, both in 2008, when Jal goes back to see the family he's been separated from for more than 15 years, and in the late 80s, when Jal was the children's spokesman for visiting international aid volunteers.

It's interesting to compare one child soldier's perspective with that of another lost boy's; in What is the What, Achak Deng is hardly a fan of the SPLA, but Jal's relationship with the rebel army is a bit more ambivalent. His father joined them, and then he did too. He explains how the refugee camps doubled as training grounds for the rebel army (as Deng describes as well). All of the Sudan-based footage, interviews, and narration are excellent. What's awkward is Jal's hip hop career and the excessive inclusion of it in the film. Watching Jal stand on a stage and rap about his brutal childhood while a bunch of white people are smiling and dancing in the audience is very, very surreal, and certain songs (like one in which Jal over-extends the metaphor of Africa as a country being raped by Western interests, repeating "vagina" again and again in the refrain) exacerbate this surreality—as if we were watching a comedic skit from Fear of a Black Hat rather than a documentary about a serious international crisis. But Jal is an amazing storyteller, perhaps in spite of himself (we see that talent even in the footage of his childhood interviews).

No comments: