A year in the experiences of a group of Sudanese orphans brought to the United States by a relief agency is the subject of this interesting but fairly conventional documentary by Jon Shenk and Megan Mylan. Though obviously made with few resources, “Lost Boys of Sudan” makes its story come alive by personalizing it, focusing on a group of seven young men flown to Houston for education and employment, and eventually on two of them whose experiences take rather different turns.
The youths treated in the film are only a few of the tens of thousands left on their own as the result of the terrible civil conflict in their North African nation, a seemingly perpetual war between the Islamic government and Christian and animist rebels in the south that has caught up untold millions of people, leading to staggering numbers of dead and displaced. The Dinka tribe has been especially hard hit, and the boys profiled here are among those who fled their homeland and traveled long distances to refugee camps outside Sudan. The film introduces us to a group of friends at one of the camps, from whose number the seven are selected for transport to the U.S. under the sponsorship of various relief organizations. The boys see the United States rather unrealistically as a place where they can quickly make a good life for themselves, and those left behind hope that the immigrants will be able to send back much-needed funds and, perhaps, eventually return as benefactors.
The reality proves very different. In Texas the group is installed in an apartment and provided with support to cover a few months, but the culture shock is immense, and the need to find gainful employment soon becomes acute. One of them, Peter, moves to Kansas City, where he earns a high school diploma while holding down a job. His situation is hardly idyllic, though: he fails to make the school basketball team despite his hard work, and a relative back home expresses her disappointment at his failure to send her more money from America. Meanwhile his friend Santino, left behind in Houston, makes far less progress: he gets a job in a plastics factory, but runs into trouble with the law when he’s arrested for driving without a license. The story of the two young men ends abruptly at the close of the first year, so that the picture lacks a solid resolution; there is, however, footage of a one-year reunion of “lost boys” from across the country, who share reminiscences and renew old friendships.
In the final analysis “Lost Boys of Sudan” isn’t much more than the latest installment of the immigrant experience in America, recounting the difficulties of assimilation while holding out an uplifting hope of success. But the fact that it’s an old story doesn’t mean that this new telling of it doesn’t, in its rather simple and unaffected way, carry considerable impact.