October 31, 2007

Playback: Christopher Quinn's 'God Grew Tired of Us'


From Christopher Quinn's God Grew Tired of Us. Courtesy of Christopher Quinn

I cannot imagine thinking that my life was a struggle because God grew tired of me. But now when I hear that phrase, I can't help thinking about Big John Dau, a protagonist in Christopher Quinn's God Grew Tired of Us. My eyes still well up from the scene in which he reveals this.

God Grew Tired of Us is full of moments that stick with you and make you think differently about excess, waste and the things we take for granted living in a modern world. Quinn is an amazing director with a talent for capturing things that are not so obvious on film. His intimate style of filmmaking makes you feel like you know and love his subjects. By documenting the massive struggle of the people of Sudan in such an authentic way, he introduces a means by which we can tangibly make a difference for others. 

The journey begins with John, Panther and Daniel, along with 10,000 "cousins," walking 1,000 miles from Sudan to Kenya without shoes, to escape a civil war in Sudan. These young boys are leaving their family behind, but instead of mourning, they must help each other. They take on roles of leaders and help the others to be creative when there is no food to eat. Then, after years of taking care of the thousands of boys, some of the members of the group are considered hardship cases and offered a work exchange program to America. Faced with the difficult decision of leaving their family behind, they must move to the US in order to provide financial assistance to their country and their family.

It is this leg of the journey, where Sudanese and American cultures mix and even clash, that provides comedy, reflection and simple questions. Watching the boys (now men) in the supermarket, we understand how "commercial" we truly are. Why would anyone take a beautiful potato and do so much to put it into a bag of chips? Why not cook it to eat it? When the boys are introduced to electricity and light switches, we see how primitive some cultures are, even today. 

A scene that forever scarred me in a good way was when the boys get a ride to work, two hours before their "first" shift, and sit in the parking lot waiting for the shop to open. Then, at work in a factory (their first of three jobs they would report to that day), the work is done with a smile. Why? Every move they make contributes to their homeland. They are truly living in the present.

Paul Daley's exquisite cinematography and a beautiful edit by Geoffrey Richman make the story seamless, and Nicole Kidman's subtle narration lends a sweet, gentle sensitivity toward the subjects.

For 90 minutes I found myself almost understanding another perspective. It made me wonder if we were doing the boys any good in bringing them into the resettlement program. The thought of "Americanizing" them seemed toxic in comparison to the authentic place from where they came. I found myself wanting to protect their innocence from the hazards of American life.

There is no way to describe the scene where one of the "lost boys" reunites with his mother after 17 years apart. God Grew Tired of Us will leave you thinking for a long time.

 

Amy Berg was nominated for an Academy Award for her documentary Deliver Us From Evil. She recently produced a short film for the Live Earth Campaign sponsored by Al Gore.

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