THE BOY WHO WOULDN’T DIE
90 minute documentary / Dir: Sarah Lewis
In 1989, French filmmaker, Patrice Barrat meets David Vincent, an 8-year old boy living in an Ethiopian refugee camp. 25 years later they reconnect renewing their commitment towards peace and reconciliation within their own lives and for the future of South Sudan. A dramatic reversal of fortunes ultimately derails the process while also revealing a common humanity.
2: Story Summary / Synopsis
In 1989, frustrated by the mainstream media’s lack of interest in the Sudanese famine, journalist Patrice Barrat took a small film crew to Pinyudo Refugee camp in Ethiopia. There he met two 8-year-old Sudanese boys seeking refuge, David Nyuol Vincent and his friend Emmanuel Jal. The boys were watched over by U.N. workers by day, but at night were secretly subjected to enforced militia training.
Unaware of this, Barrat focused on documenting the boy’s friendship, believing this could help to connect a Western audience with the plight of the Sudanese people. He became attached to the boys, and returned to France fearing for their fate. The resulting film, Famine Fatigue (1990) was broadcast on television around the world drawing international attention to the civil war in South Sudan and its resulting famine. Barrat spent his life invested in humanitarian causes, his ideology was formed as a child of prominent anti-colonial parents- Robert and Denise Barrat who had both been imprisoned after signing the Manifesto of 121 in Paris (1961) supporting the liberation of Algiers.
In 1991, Barrat attempted to return to Pinyudo refugee camp but was told that air raids had destroyed the camp and everyone had died. Even the people who escaped and attempted to re-enter Sudan were bombed. Barrat privately struggled with the news that the two boys were no longer alive.
In 2012, filmmaker Sarah Lewis emailed Patrice about a documentary that she was making about the life of David Nyuol Vincent explaining that he had indeed survived the attack, walked across Africa and spend the next 17 years living in Kakuma Refugee camp before he was resettled in Australia. The previous year, David and Sarah had travelled to South Sudan to begin filming a documentary about his life as one of the ‘Lost Boys of South Sudan’.
After hearing the news that David was still alive, Patrice travelled to the Hague where he was attending a peace building symposium. Both now professionally involved with peace building efforts in conflict zones, they came away from the reunion with a commitment to work together on a reconciliation project in South Sudan, effectively completing a full circle.
In 2016, things took an unexpected turn when Patrice invited David to be part of a conference. On arrival it was clear that Patrice was experiencing a bi-polar episode and with his world becoming incoherent, the situation quickly became unmanageable. David, concerned about the failure of the conference was also implicitly aware of the loss of dignity for Patrice that rendered him powerless in his own life. With this turn of events the once powerful ‘white man’ (David’s words) who had informed the world about the famine in South Sudan was now without agency in his own life.
After stints of homelessness in France, Patrice Barrat died by suicide in February 2018. This reversal of fortune left David shocked and questioning but resolute in continuing the work they were both passionate about.
3: Topic Summary
With the increased crisis of displaced peoples around the world, this film acknowledges but subverts a common narrative propagated in the press, that refugees are disempowered and wanting something that ‘we’ have. Instead the film fleshes out and makes apparent the inner worlds of both of the main characters, drawing parallels in their internal struggles. The writer Jennifer A. Gonzalez when speaking of the representation of the subjectivity of displaced people asks ‘Why have so few visual artists addressed the politics of migration from the psychological, internal state of the migrant?’. This film aims to bring to light the internal worlds of characters born into different circumstances yet struggling with similar issues. Intergenerational trauma exists in the lives of both David as a child of war and Patrice whose grandparents died in the Holocaust and parents who were Algerian Freedom Fighters. Two lives with vastly different outcomes – David manages to establish homes in both South Sudan and Australia whereas Patrice takes his life, unable to find a place and a way to live in this world.
More obviously understood in the context of someone who is labelled a refugee, this film delves into the oft hidden displacement that results from mental health issues. What does it mean to have a home – physically, spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, emotionally? Is the work for peace and reconciliation that both David and Patrice are engaged with, driven by a deeper more personal need to find integration of one’s own trauma? The intertwining story of David and Patrice gives a framework to challenge conventional stereotypes and reveal a deeper understanding of home, highlighting similarities in the human condition that are often obscured by external circumstances.
Through the tragic event of Patrice’s death, the film shines a light on our common humanity. Whatever we are born into, however we are categorised by the outside world, we are similar in our internal struggles and our desire to find a home.
4: Artistic Approach
The documentary builds its narrative through a rich source of formats (archival, HDV, 4K and iPhone footage), images and software-generated text. The extended 10-year shooting period reveals events as they unfold in the lives of Patrice Barrat and David Nyuol Vincent, beginning with their first meeting at the Ethiopian Refugee camp when David was interviewed for Barrats documentary Famine Fatigue (1989). The different formats often reflect the time of the filming.
The film begins with intercutting the childhoods of the 2 protagonists; super 16mm footage from Famine Fatigue shows David as an eight-year old boy talking about the danger of crocodiles while living in Pinyudo refugee camp. The audio transitions into a voiceover of a present-day David recalling memories of his time living in the camp.
Super 8 and HDV footage shot on the island of Belle Ile accompanies Patrice Barrat’s voice-over with idyllic memories of growing up on the island. The two childhoods could not be more different – the affluent and free island life sharply contrasts with Pinyudo Refugee camp where escaping death is a daily preoccupation.
A third perspective – filmmaker Sarah Lewis is introduced via the email exchange that first took place with Patrice in 2012. Although not seen on screen in person, her presence provides a meta narrative that draws attention to the fact that all documentary is crafted through the perspective of a filmmaker. This device works equally as an integral part of the film’s narrative in structuring the chronological order of the events. The background story unfolds in tandem from 2012 until Patrice’s death in 2018.
Observational footage shot over the previous decade moves the story forward and is intercut with Super 8 recreations representing differing states of mind. Patrice’s final years when diagnosed with bipolar disorder is initially indicated through disjointed email communication juxtaposed with footage of Patrice crying in the car when talking about the effect that the bombing in Beirut had on him. Stories of his mother referring to him as a ‘fragile child’ signifies the epigenetic trauma that he had not been able to escape. David’s growing family and his career as a community leader offers him the stability he has always wanted but belies a restlessness motivated by the legacy of his own trauma.
The sound track will reflect the different cultural influences – Patrice’s love of classical music contrasts with the African tribal beats that David grew up.
‘A New Beginning’ has been accepted by the Documentary Australia Foundation as a film with social capital thereby giving it DGR status. Any donation towards this film through the DAF website (at this link) is a 100% tax deduction.
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