This award-winning documentary chronicles the shocking, but inspiring odyssey of Emmanuel Jal. A former child soldier of Sudanís brutal civil war, he is now an international hip-hop star sharing a message of peace for his war-torn land. From rare archive of Jal as a seven year old soldier to MTV videos of Jal performing pain-tinged rhymes, an indomitable spirit shines through. One of the 21st centuryís most inspiring journeys.
"Left home at the age of seven, one year later I'm carryin' an Ak-47." His electrifying music crackles with both pain and hope. For hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in Sudan's brutal civil war, these lyrics are hardly empty posturing. They are the bitter reality of a young man who was forged in the crucible of one of the world's most cruel wars, "voices on my brain of friends that were slain".
A visiting film crew discovered the eloquent and self possessed 7 year old refugee. They interviewed him, "after you shoot the first bullet, the fear runs away and you engage in the battle". His words hauntingly echo the qualities that came to define Jal the vocal confident adult. The young Emmanuel tells us he wants to go home. "My heart wants to learn how to fly an airplane. So I can visit my family".
Twenty years later, his dream comes true but could he have ever guessed the changed circumstances. "I feel like I've lost something, I feel like I've lost certain feelings that a family should have". We journey with Jal from America back to Sudan, to meet his father for the first time since he was sent away as a boy, to escape the bombing. The father who never came to look for Jal after his boat bound for Ethiopia sank, and Jal became a "lost boy".
Along the way we learn how he, like other innocent children, leapt at the chance to be trained as child soldiers for the rebel SPLA, with no other thought than to avenge the rape, death and destruction wrought on their villages. "My desire was to revenge what happened in my village and I said, OK, I'm gonna to learn how to fire a gun". The grim reality was beatings and brainwashing, fighting, living off vultures to avoid starvation - and acting like animals themselves.
Jal rose from ruthless child soldier, to refugee, to rap star where he finds his own redemption and life mission through a message of peace that represents one of the 21st centuries' most inspiring and hopeful journeys. An extraordinary and beautifully crafted film.
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Audience Choice Award, Tribeca International Film Festival, 2008
Winner Crystal Heart, Truly Moving Pictures Film Festival, 2008
Best Documentary, Bologna International Film Festival, 2008
Audience Choice Award, Maui International Film Festival, 2008
Best Documentary, Bergen International Film Festival, 2008
"Quietly stirring." - THE NEW YORK TIMES
"If there is a more affecting documentary film about a young musician in any time or setting, I have not seen it." - AFROPOP WORLDWIDE
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18th Street Films
|Making the film
"I never planned to be a filmmaker. Far from it, I was planning to go into the diplomatic service following the steps of quite a few family members in Europe. I did always have a passion for documentary films though. My co-producer and I also like music, so we thought it would be interesting to do a documentary series about the explosion and globalization of music around the world. We looked for compelling musicians and came across Emmanuel Jal, who, as a former child soldier turned global rap star (soundtrack for Blood Diamond, ER, Live8), has a particularly fascinating story to tell. We did not do the series, though we are still looking at it now, and we focused on Emmanuel's story as the one we wanted to pursue."
C. Karim Chrobog is an award-winning filmmaker. In 2005, Karim launched an independent film company currently producing a film on Ibn Battutah, a colorful, but forgotten 14th century Moroccan adventurer. His latest documentary, 'War Child', chronicles the life story of Emmanuel Jal, former South Sudanese child soldier turned international hip-hop sensation. He is also working on the documentary 'Kidnapped', which is based on real-life events about his family's kidnapping during a vacation gone awry in the South of Yemen three years ago. He started his career at Time Warner's international policy office working with the company's Warner Brothers, HBO, Fortune, and Turner divisions.