War Child


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

War Child
"The content and the editing of this documentary are sharp... Poignant and a call to action."

Documentaries about Sudan - The Devil Came On Horseback, Darfur Now - tend, by their very nature to be a tough watch. This film about rising Sudanese rap star Emmanuel Jal takes a different tack, choosing to document his traumatic childhood but also leaving plenty of room to celebrate the man he has become. Now an internationally known artist, his songs are based on his experiences of life in Sudan in the Eighties and mark his attempt to testify about what is happening and to raise awareness so that change may come. Like Nigerian Femi Kuti in Suffering And Smiling he is an activist - urging the Sudanese government to keep its promise to let the people decide what should become of their country.

His troubles began when his father sent him from his village as a child in a mass evacuation of kids as the civil war raged in the south of the country in 1987. The boat that he shared with hundreds of others sank and, when no one came to find him, he found himself in a refugee camp and as chance would have it, was captured on camera in 1989 by a documentary team. It was here that he decided he wanted to become a soldier. "We were happy to do it," he says, "No one was forced".

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His life went on to be even more remarkable, from being adopted by an aid worker to being orphaned again and finally pursuing his rap career. His story is told against a backdrop of a trip he is making back to Sudan, to meet his father for the first time since the fateful night he was sent away. Its a traumatic and uplifting return, as Jal strives to make a difference for other kids, still in refugee camps after all this time.

Both the content and the editing of this documentary are sharp, and Jal's lyrics and testimony to other kids about his time as a "lost boy" poignant and a call to action. However, the sound effects - curious comedy 'boing' noises and 'whirrs' used over some of the talking heads are inappropriate and distracting. Still, there is much to commend this film which manages to couple hard-hitting history with a positive message for the future - provided the world takes time to listen.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2008
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War Child packshot
A rising hip-hop star uses his music to raise awareness about his homeland’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Director: Christian Karim Chrobog

Starring: Emmanuel Jal

Year: 2008

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: USA


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