Emmanuel Jal: War Child

06 Apr 2009


The annual Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children gets underway soon, from April 18th to 24th. As it is the case every year, the festival brings a vast array of engaging films that are sure to appeal not only to children, but also to the more mature crowd. 

The 2008 film War Child by first-time director C. Karim Chrobog is one such film that is sure to continue to touch viewers. The award-winning documentary chronicles the remarkable odyssey of former child soldier Emmanuel Jal.

Jal, now an emerging international hip hop artist, believes that he survived extraordinary ordeals in the bloody twenty-year Sudanese civil war in order to tell his story and touch lives.

In 1987, Emmanuel Jal was lured into fighting with the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) rebel army at the tender age of about seven. Along with thousands of other orphaned and displaced children cramped in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he learned to maneuver an AK-47 and to fight a merciless was against the Arab government forces in Khartoum.

Born in southern Sudan, where the population is mostly black and Christian, Jal’s view of the world was shaped early by this socio-political, religious, ethnic and economic war. His earliest memories are of Muslim fighters beating his mother and seeing his village raided.

It is amid this chaos that his father, an official with the SPLA, decides to have Emmanuel board a boat with scores of other children from southern Sudan in destination of Ethiopia. Their hopes of finding peace and a better education in nearby Ethiopia are soon dashed when the overcrowded boat sinks and the majority of the children drown.

Hi mother killed in the civil strife and his father abandoning him for dead after the boat sinks, the young Emmanuel Jal finds himself in a refugee camp with only his desires for redemption and a better life left.

The documentary’s most powerful ingredient is the interweaving of archive footage of Jal as a young boy during that time in the Ethiopian refugee camp. We observe him discussing his hopes and dreams as part of a National Geographic reportage from the 1980s. Even then, it was evident that the young Emmanuel had the gift to inspire those around him.

War Child puts a revealing and humanizing spotlight on the many motivations that lead such idealistic, and sometimes disillusioned, youth to join armed conflicts in war-torn areas of the world.

From the desire to avenge their family members, to exploited religious and ethnic sectarianism, to the most basic need of feeling part of whole and striving for a purpose, we learn that the circumstances which can lead a child to pick up a deadly weapon are manifold.

War Child follows Emmanuel Jal all the way up to his current activities as a world-trotting musical force who uses his art to reach out to youth back in his homeland, Europe and America. His amazing story of survival and perseverance through the most amazing odds cannot leave anyone unmoved.

The full-length documentary will be screened in Toronto on April 21st and 23rd, as part of the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Grande 7 (4861 Yonge Street). See http://www.sprockets.ca for more details.

See film’s homepage at http://www.warchildmovie.com/

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