Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Lost Boys of Sudan movie: answers to the FAQ's
Peter Nyarol Dut graduated from Olathe East High School in June of 2003. He is currently a student at Green Mountain College in Vermont with a full scholarship. Along with his studies, Peter is happily playing basketball again. Since the film’s release Peter has participated in meetings with the Congressional Refugee and Human Rights Caucuses, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees, the Kansas State Board of Education and CARE.
Megan Mylan & Jon Schenk: We saw the film as a way to tell the story of an underreported civil war in Sudan, an important international story. But we also felt like through the eyes of these young men coming to our country, it would be a unique way to look at ourselves and reveal this crazy modern world we’ve created in the U.S. The newcomer story is so central to who we are as a country.
The 10 agencies that are officially subcontracted by the U.S. government’s Refugee Program to resettle refugees are to provide basic services to newly arrived refugees such as airport reception, housing for at least one month, household goods and clothing, assistance with applications for medical and cash assistance, referrals to English language courses and job placement services. Their initial period of providing assistance is 90-days, though many agencies work with their refugee clients for much longer and offer many more programs, but the goal is to make refugees self-sufficient. The agencies work with very small staff and tight budgets, receiving only a portion of their funding from the federal government.
We were looking for youth whose English level was strong so that they would be more likely to interact with Americans, but most importantly we were looking for strong, interesting individuals. And we found that in Peter Dut and Santino Chuor. Peter and Santino stood out to us from the beginning. Peter impressed us with his energy, practicality and focus, Santino with his warmth and sensitivity. They struck us as two very distinct individuals who would approach life in America differently. They also seemed like two people we would enjoy spending the next year of our life with, and they were.
In Sudan an individual birth date is not given the same importance in their culture as it is in the U.S. Additionally, birth records were not kept in most of the villages where the boys were born. Since many of the youth lost their parents when they were very young, they didn’t have anyone to keep track of their birthdate. When the group arrived at the UN refugee camps, they were assigned ages, the aid workers made their best guess at the youth’s ages and assigned them all the birthdate of January 1st, with whatever corresponding year seemed appropriate.
The most challenging part of making Lost Boys of Sudan, beyond the usual filmmaking struggles of fundraising, permissions and distribution, was not being able to be the friends that Peter and Santino so desperately needed. As filmmakers trying to give an honest portrayal of the struggle to start life in a new, strange country, we had to keep a certain degree of distance from and intervene in their lives as little as possible. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. It was so tempting to just help the guys find good jobs, sign up for community college and make new friends and discuss with them the breadth of who we are as a country. We knew if we did that, we would make life for Peter and Santino better, but not come away with a film that could help people all across the U.S. understand the challenges of being a newcomer to America.