"Left home at the age of seven/One year later I leave with an AK-47." For hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, a veteran of the 20-year civil war in southern Sudan, these lyrics are hardly empty posturing. One of the tens of thousands of "lost boys" of the Sudan, Jal left his devastated home in 1987. At a United Nations camp for Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, he became the children's spokesperson and soon joined the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, training to fight the Arab-dominated north right under the UN's watch. After almost five years, he and his friends deserted, embarking on a harrowing journey that few survived. Now in his 20s, Jal is using his music to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan and the plight of child soldiers throughout the world. First-time filmmaker C. Karim Chrobog follows Jal as he performs at a fundraiser and meets with students in Washington, DC then returns to Sudan for the first time in 18 years to reunite with his family, including the father who summoned him to war and then abandoned him. On the way he visits a battlefield that brings back painful memories, a UN camp in Kenya for Sudanese orphans, and the Nairobi prep school where he wound up after a chain of events so remarkable they'll soon be retold in a movie directed by Tony Scott. "I believe I survived for a reason," raps Jal in his hit "War Child," and that reason is evident in every frame of Chrobog's moving portrait.
Director's Statement Collapse
War Child, a feature documentary film, chronicles the tumultuous, shocking, inspiring, and ultimately hopeful life of Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier of Sudan's brutal civil war and emerging international hip-hop star with a message of peace for his war-torn land and his beloved Africa. Jal's life story, in many ways, mirrors his homeland: tragedy and terror mingling with hope and restoration.
In the early 1980s, at the age of seven, Jal was swept into Sudan's civil war, becoming one of 10,000 child soldiers conscripted on both sides of the two decades-long conflict. Orphaned and adrift, firing a gun he could barely hold aloft, trekking through empty deserts in search of food and shelter, he was eventually adopted by British aid worker Emma McCune, who famously married Sudanese guerilla commander Riek Machar. Shortly after she adopted Jal, McCune died in a car crash, leaving Emmanuel “orphaned” once again. Jal's rise from orphan to child soldier to refugee to rap star with a message of peace represents one of the 21st century’s most inspiring and hopeful journeys, and a metaphor for the broader African predicament.
Emmanuel's journey is, in many ways, just beginning. His dream of Gua (peace) in Sudan, and prosperity in Africa, is threatened by corrupt leaders, genocidal warlords, and Western indifference. Hopefully, Emmanuel's peace—his quest to make the world a better place through his music and activism--will prove to be far more significant than Emmanuel's former war. This documentary will tell the story of Emmanuel Jal's life through his own words and his music, explore Sudan's tormented modern history of civil war, assess the prospects for peace after the country's January 2005 ceasefire agreement, highlight the growing problem of war children, and shine a light on the growing African hip-hop scene that is tackling some of the continent's most serious ills through its music. Jal's life and music, Sudan's modern history, and the African predicament will intertwine in this gripping story that will both haunt and inspire viewers who scarcely understand the conflicts and tragedies roiling Africa today.
About the Director(s)Collapse
C. Karim Chrobog is a first-time director/producer. He started his career in the media industry working at TimeWarner's international public policy office. In 2005, Karim launched Tangier Pictures, an independent feature film company. Tangier Pictures is producing a feature film on Ibn Battutah, a colorful but forgotten 14th-century Moroccan adventurer. He is also working on a documentary, Kidnapped, which tells the story of his family's kidnapping during a vacation gone awry in the South of Yemen three years ago. Karim holds a degree in international politics and a certificate in international business diplomacy from Georgetown University. He speaks German, Arabic, and English. Karim resides in Washington, DC.