DVD Release Date:  August 14, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  January 12, 2007 (limited)
Rating:  PG (for disturbing images)
Genre:  Documentary
Run Time:  90 min.
Director:  Christopher Quinn
Narrator:  Nicole Kidman

In the September 2007 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, an article called “Why We Don’t Care About Darfur” describes the phenomenon of “psychic numbing.”  Psychologist Paul Slovic contends that this mental mechanism kicks in when we are hit with tragic, overwhelming statistics. 

Slovic further believes that the emotional value we attach to life tends to diminish as the count goes up.  In other words, the more people involved in the suffering, the less likely we are to react.  Or, as Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

Perhaps that’s why writer/director Christopher Quinn chose to focus on just three characters in his award-winning documentary, God Grew Tired of Us.  When marauding Muslim troops began systematically murdering Christians in 1992 in the African nation of Sudan, some 27,000 boys, mostly aged 5 to 10, escaped to the bush.  Many witnessed the death of their families.  Some buried the bodies.  Left with few options, these “Lost Boys,” as they came to be called, began a 1,000 mile death march to the United Nations refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

Only 12,000 would survive, and they nearly starved.  None expected to stay in Kenya for long—certainly not a decade.  They were also surprised by the lack of rations in the camp, which left them bereft of food for days at a time.  To cope, they would tell stories and sing to pass the time.

We first meet John Bul Dau, Panther Bior and Daniel Abul Pach in 2001 as they learn that they will soon be leaving for America, courtesy of the U.S. government.  Quinn’s camera records the young men as they bid teary farewells to their compatriots and then follows them onto the plane.  They are startled by the captain’s voice, perplexed over the digital equipment and shocked by the food they are served.  “The food we got on the plane," says one, "was not making as good as what we used to be eating."

John Bul heads to Syracuse, and the others to Pittsburgh, where they stumble on escalators and learn how to turn on lights.  “This is food?” says one refugee, when a baker hands him a chocolate sprinkle-covered donut.  Thankfully, Quinn never trivializes or mocks his subjects, and the filmmakers, who shot the documentary over a four-year period, continually straddled the line between wanting to help the young men and allowing the action to unfold naturally.  They achieved a good balance, with crisp footage and brisk editing that makes the subjects extremely sympathetic.

After the initial culture shock, they learn that they must find jobs within three months then repay the government for their airfare.  All begin jobs—sometimes two and, in one case, even three—and begin writing letters to the Red Cross asking about family members.  Soon, they discover how lonely life can be in this country, and how very hard people work just to stay alive.

The men are shocked that Americans must know one another in order to pay social calls, and they simply cannot understand why we ignore those who are upset in public.  They’re also perplexed by many of our traditions—particularly the ones that mix religion and paganism.  “What is this Santa Claus?” says John Bul, after making a similar comment about a Christmas tree.  “I do not understand.  Where is this in the Bible, and what does it have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ?”  

A particularly poignant scene occurs when John Bul is reunited with his mother.  She walks through airport security and collapses from joy at seeing her son after 17 years of separation.  Carrying a walking stick adorned with a cross, she then begins trilling a high-pitched song in her native language, as John Bul looks on with a mixture of joy and embarrassment.

The only downside to the film is that the relief efforts going on in this country and abroad were barely even mentioned.  Although a DVD extra mentions places to help, at least one or two interviews with these agencies would have been appropriate. 

Fortunately, all of the men carve out niches for themselves and even manage to attend college.  Two create non-profit foundations and one marries.

It’s easy to see why this documentary won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  It certainly deserves widespread recognition.

AUDIENCE:  Adults and older children

DVD EXTRAS

  • Commentary with Director
  • "Finding the Lost Boys” featurette
  • Theatrical Previews
  • Take Action: suggestions for how to help

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  Graphic discussions of genocide, including rape, pillage and mass murders (without images)
  • Other:  Disturbing images of starving children being attacked by flies, as well as discussions about the long trek in which only 12,000 children of the 27,000 survived; the long-term effects that the war had on some of the Lost Boys; as well as their intense loneliness and grief at losing their families.