Documentary following three Sudanese refugees as they return to their homeland to find surviving family members.
About the Film
Rebuilding Hope follows Garang Mayuol, Koor Garang, and Gabriel Bol Deng, who fled their villages in South Sudan due to civil war when they were small children. They grew up in refugee camps and resettled in the USA in 2001.
Accompanied by filmmaker Jen Marlowe, these young men, now in their twenties, embark on a journey back to Sudan to discover whether their homes and families have survived, what the current situation is in South Sudan, and how they can help their communities rebuild after devastating civil war.
Rebuilding Hope also sheds light on what the future holds for Sudan in its precarious struggle for peace and stability. All proceeds from the film go towards drilling water wells, building a school, and providing medical care in the South Sudanese villages where the young men are from; all these efforts are spearheaded by them.
I first discovered the power of video as a tool of activism while doing peace and justice work in Palestine and Israel. When checkpoints and closures made it impossible for the Israeli and Palestinian youth I was working with to meet with each other, I would cross the borders with video camera in hand. One day I would tape messages from youth in Ramallah, that I would show the next day to a group of youth in Haifa. They would in turn record response messages that I would then bring to Gaza. As time went on, the video dialogue project, Messages from Gaza Seeds, evolved from the young people using the camera to “talk” to each other, to using the camera to document their realities—challenging their counterparts on the “other side” to work for change.
In 2004, my collaborators on Darfur Diaries and I embarked on a trip to Darfur to document the (at that time) scarcely covered crisis in Darfur. I wanted to respond to the mounting atrocities by using my newfound interest in film—specifically as a tool of activism.
As my work on Darfur deepened over the years, I became increasingly disturbed at how often Darfur was talked about and viewed in isolation—as if what was happening in Darfur was in a vacuum—rather than being connected to the larger picture of Sudan, Africa and, indeed, the world as a whole. It was for this reason that when journalist David Morse asked me if I wanted to join him in documenting the return home to South Sudan of three young men, part of the group known as “Lost Boys,” I immediately agreed. One goal of Rebuilding Hope, the documentary I filmed during this trip, is to show the connections between what is happening in South Sudan and the crisis in Darfur—and how emphasizing one region at the expense of the other is disastrous for the country.
Rebuilding Hope features only Southern Sudanese voices. “Outside experts” won’t provide historical background or context. We do not want to relegate the people whom the film is about to 30-second sound bites. Some of the most astute political analyses I encountered while filming was offered by an elderly man, recently returned to his village from where he had been displaced for decades, and from a young woman in a refugee camp still yearning to return home.
At face-value, a documentary film might not seem to be “activism” (as it’s not asking the audience to DO something). But I deeply believe that it is. It asks audiences, in a very real way, to fundamentally change how they see the world. It asks whose lives and voices and stories are to be valued. I believe that once a profound shift like that occurs, it can’t help but lead people to become more engaged in their world.
Activism to me is also very much about solidarity. Solidarity work is not doing something on behalf of someone; it’s working in partnership with them. Rebuilding Hope not only provides a means for Southern Sudanese to tell their stories; it also will bring a direct benefit back to the communities where we filmed by working in partnership with the three young men the film focuses on. Every penny earned from the film will go towards the health care and education projects being initiated by Gabriel Bol, Koor and Garang in their communities.
My deepest hope is that Rebuilding Hope will fuse artistry, activism and solidarity into a beautiful, troubling and ultimately inspiring work that will challenge us to change our world.
Southern Sudan Independence Referendum Information and Resources
Out-of-Country registration and voting centers have been established in the eight countries with the largest numbers of Southern Sudanese living outside Sudan, including the United States.
- Wikipedia: Southern Sudan Independence Referendum 2011
- Seattle Times: Hundreds of Southern Sudanese flock to Seattle to vote on secession
- Southern Sudan Referendum Commission: Registration and Voting Locations by Country
- Southern Sudan Referendum Commission: Frequently Asked Questions
The Reel NW Connection
Reel NW focuses on the very best of independent film from the Northwest. Every week, Reel NW airs intriguing films from, or about, our own community. Director Jen Marlowe is a Seattle-based activist, author and filmmaker.