War Child is a documentary about the life of Emmanuel Jal, a hip hop artist in his late 20s, who at the age of 7 was given a gun bigger than him, and along with other child soldiers fought in the Second Sudanese Civil War between the North and the South. It is a journey that we follow through the musician’s eyes, starting with a struggle to make it through the desert with hundreds of other boys, only a dozen of whom survived, continuing to show an amazing recovery through the healing power of music, forgiving the people in his troubled past and visiting home after being gone for 18 years. A lot of Jal’s songs can be heard throughout War Child, and combined with the great directing and producing job that Karim Chrobog did here, the movie makes for a beautiful piece of art.
Besides the breathtaking sunsets in Southern Sudan, however, one can see a history lesson in War Child. It is easy to digest this type of history, because statistics is replaced with an example of one person who has seen every possible atrocity of that war, was made part of it and was trained to be a mindless killing machine. Whoever did that training failed though. The person that emerges after all the pain and losses is an optimistic young man, full of life, traveling the world to spread his story, and on top of that working to build a school in his hometown in Sudan.
Despite the sadness of the storyline, the musician’s unsuppressed optimism radiates through the screen, making you laugh. I did break down, however, during the part about Jal’s sister, Nyaruach. If he had been through hell, then her childhood was hell multiplied by two. I might have just felt more for her as a woman. But it’s not their past that defines these two amazing young people. It’s their ability to leave it behind, to forgive, and to use it as a means to help others.
“I believe I survived for a reason, to tell my story, to touch lives,” Jal is singing. The movie touched my life, and I think it will touch yours, too. I highly recommend it.
* * *
Emmanuel Jal’s book under the same title is hitting the stores in the United States this month, and in the UK in March. His music albums are Gua, Ceasefire and Warchild. Nyaruach’s first single, Gatluak, will be available on iTunes this month.