God Grew Tired of Us’ Chronicles Three Boys’ Escape From Sudan
A year after taking home both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance, D.C. native Christopher Quinn’s documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” finally gets a hometown release.
During the second Sudanese civil war, an estimated 25,000 boys fled their villages in southern Sudan to escape atrocities designated for them. A journalist dubbed them the “Lost Boys of Sudan”—after Peter Pan’s cohesive gang of orphans who support each other as a family. Many had been away from their homes and families for more than a decade. Quinn’s engaging documentary manages to tell their horrific tale without drowning the audience in depression.
In July 2001, Quinn’s crew traveled to a refugee camp in Kenya to begin shooting their story. Even then, the mood was one of optimism. The footage centers around three charismatic Dinka boys, part of a group chosen to emigrate to the United States. Camp leader John Dau Bul is destined for Syracuse. In camp, Daniel Abul Pach entertains his peers through a daily gathering called “parliament.” He and his best friend Panther Bior become roommates in Pittsburgh and are lucky to have each other in their new home.
Sadly, there’s no longer any parliament in the United States. While hustling for survival in Africa, the Lost Boys had grown accustomed to constant interaction with a close-knit, extended adopted family. Suddenly losing that support leaves an emotional toll on the Lost Boys dispersed throughout America. “God Grew Tired of Us” arrives three years after another fine documentary with a similar subject, “Lost Boys of Sudan,” by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk. That film, shot over a shorter period of time, showcased the many problems encountered by two Lost Boys who settled in Houston.
Likewise, “God Grew Tired of Us” addresses a number of difficulties encountered by Daniel, Panther, and John, but it focuses more on the opportunities they have compared to their former lives. John reacts to his alienation by performing outreach intended to support and connect the Sudanese Diaspora. Amazingly, he finds his family, bringing his mother and sister to Syracuse. Quinn’s uplifting film concludes with sort of a happy ending, a welcome coda for viewers weary of seemingly hopeless documentaries.
God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan (English and Dinka with subtitles; 88 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4.5 out of 5 stars
‘Situation’ in Iraq
Directed by Philip Haas (“Angels and Insects”), “The Situation” claims to be the first fictional feature based on the current war in Iraq. Writer Wendell Steavenson draws upon her personal experience as a journalist in the Middle East, and the result is an intelligent work that doesn’t shy away from the complexities behind the social-political landscape in Iraq.
Opening the film, U.S. soldiers find two Iraqi boys out after curfew and throw them off a bridge—one drowns. Rafeeq (Nasser Memarzia), a leading community figure interviewed by American reporter Anna (played by Danish actress Connie Nielsen), gives her information leading to the surviving boy. At the drowned boy’s funeral, her American presence raises suspicions.
Rafeeq himself then ends up murdered. The dearly departed Rafeeq had a lot of enemies, and his interactions with Americans displeased Walid (Driss Roukh), a leader in the insurgency. U.S. officials, meanwhile, suspect Rafeeq of being an insurgent because of his ties to Walid. Furthermore, Rafeeq had rejected an Iraqi police officer’s proposal of marriage to his daughter Noor. Investigating Rafeeq’s death, Anna learns that not everything in Iraq is political.
Early on, “The Situation” appears to be centered around a love triangle involving Anna, CIA agent Dan (Damian Lewis), and Anna’s Iraqi photographer Zaid (Mido Hamada). In terms of the love story, Anna’s romantic entanglements are more structural than emotional, which weakens the impact of the character development.
“The Situation” is definitely ambitious, presenting 16 noteworthy roles (with roughly one-third of the dialogue in Arabic). But the overflow of dialogue, perhaps in part of the low budget, seems at times to be more of a presentation than a movie. The viewers aren’t very invested in the characters and their fates, part of which is due to wooden acting, particularly from the non-native speakers of English.
Nonetheless, Haas does a competent job of blueprinting the complicated schematics linking the relationships, many of which are merely out of convenience or opportunity. As Congress considers the ongoing occupation of Iraq, the subject matter is still very topical. Shot in Morocco, the film also looks and feels in the moment.
The Situation (English and Arabic with subtitles; 106 min.; scope) Opens Fri., Feb. 9 Landmark’s E Street Cinema
3.5 out of 5 stars
Fine ‘Family Law’
Argentinean director Daniel Burman’s films have enjoyed longtime local popularity, notably at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and the Latin American Film Festival (“Lost Embrace,” “Waiting for the Messiah,” “A Chrysanthemum Bursts in Cincoesquinas”). The opening night film at the 2006 Washington Jewish Film Festival, “Family Law” returns to D.C. for an extended run.
In Buenos Aries, Ariel Perelman (Daniel Hendler of “Lost Embrace”) is an Argentinean Jew of Polish ancestry. He’s a lawyer like his father, Bernardo Perelman (Arturo Goetz of “The Holy Girl”). But that’s where the similarities end. The two Perelmans have always been emotionally distant despite their mutual love.
The more introverted, younger Perelman (as he’s called throughout the movie) is a law professor who’s intimidated by his father. Perelman Jr. sees Perelman Sr. as an unattainable role model: a super-connected attorney with a highly successful private practice.
At 30, Perelman has amorous intentions toward a student, Sandra (Julieta Díaz). When she drops his course to become a Pilates teacher, he in turn joins her class. Then with the undisclosed help of his father, Perelman wins a case for Sandra, who becomes his wife.
In the next scene, Perelman has a 2-year-old son Gastón (Eloy Burman). While Sandra is away at a Pilates retreat, Perelman timidly takes on solo parental duty. Perelman is still distant from Perelman Sr., and his interactions with father, son and wife all ultimately affect his understanding and love for each family member.
“Family Law” is a subtle work, where expressions may be more important than the dialogue. It’s a movie that may be more about what isn’t spoken or shown on-screen (such as Perelman’s marriage or Gastón’s birth). It takes time, but Burman’s impressionistic film leaves an enjoyable, fulfilling taste for the patient viewer.
Family Law (Derecho de Familia) (Spanish with subtitles; 102 min.) Opens Fri., Feb. 16 Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4 out of 5 stars
Please see International Film Clips for detailed listings available at press time.
National Gallery: Jacques Rivette “Jacques Rivette on the Streets of Paris” continues Feb. 3 to 24, concluding with 2003’s “The Story of Marie and Julien (Histoire de Marie et Julien)”—never before released in the United States. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm
Goethe-Institut: ‘A Deeper Look’ On Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, 12 and 26, the Goethe-Institut presents “A Deeper Look: Earlier Films by Four Directors in New Films from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.” (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/washington
Freer: Iranian Film Festival 2007 Recent work by Iranian filmmakers, widely regarded as among the world’s best, continues on Feb. 2 to 4 and Feb. 16 to 18. Be warned: The popular series often has crowds beyond capacity. (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp
AFI Silver: Kubrick, Stanwyck “Stanley Kubrick: Selected Works” and “Barbara Stanwyck: A Centennial Salute” continue through March 1. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.