War Child



Venue: Jackson Hole Film Festival.

At this year's Jackson Hole Film Festival, a theme highlighted in several films and seminars was children involved in armed conflict. A number of speakers from the United Nations, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, praised the film “Blood Diamond” for illuminating this tragic problem in Africa. But that was fiction, and “War Child” tells the astonishing true story of hip-hop singer Emmanuel Jal, who was a child soldier in the Sudan before being rescued and building a career in Europe and America. While this documentary will never reach the audiences that Leonardo DiCaprio brought to “Blood Diamond,” it may heighten awareness of this humanitarian crisis.

C. Karim Chrobog's film, which also won the audience award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, follows Jal on tour and revisiting parts of Africa where his odyssey unfolded. Remarkably, footage exists of Jal in a refugee camp when he was still a child, and it is clear from this footage that he was a charismatic presence even then, which may have helped him to survive. Jal was ultimately rescued by a British aid worker who took him to Kenya, and he grew up to be not only a successful entertainer but a spokesman against genocidal practices in Africa. The moving finale of the film shows Jal returning to the Sudan to find family members whom he has not seen in two decades.

As a film “War Child” has its flaws. It does not always elucidate the extraordinary transitions in Jal's life. We never quite understand how and when he was forced to become a soldier, and this part of his history is skimmed over, perhaps because Jal did not want to dwell on it. What holds the film together is the magnetic personality of Jal himself. Handsome and articulate, yet unable to suppress an underlying sadness, Jal emerges as a wounded man who has forged strength and compassion out of horror. Viewers will be riveted by his journey.

Production company: 18th Street Films.

Director: C. Karim Chrobog. Executive producers: Dal LaMagna, Rick Boden, Roshanak Ameli-Tehrani. Producers: C. Karim Chrobog, Afshin Molavi. Director of photography: S.J. Staniski. Music: Charles Barnett. Editor: Nels Bangerter.

No MPAA rating, 93 minutes.

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