From the moment we learned of the “Lost Boys,” their story gripped us. Their background alone is an epic in itself. Orphaned by a civil war, thousands of young boys fled their homeland. In their escape, they managed to survive enemy gunfire, rivers of crocodiles, and extreme malnutrition. They spent most of their childhood in African refugee camps, waiting for a peace that never came. In 2000, the “Lost Boys'” already incredible story took another dramatic turn, as nearly 4,000 of these young men were declared high-priority refugees and were to be resettled all across America. As we thought about what they had been through and the magnitude of the transition that lay before them, we knew this was a story that had to be told.
We soon met with a group of “Lost Boys” who had been resettled close to our home-base, San Francisco. They charmed us with their warmth and intelligence, and they embraced the idea of a documentary. Within months we were on a plane to Kakuma, Kenya, a U.N. refugee camp located fifty miles south of the Kenya/Sudan border, looking for the people with whom we would spend the next year. When we first met Peter and Santino, we connected with them instantly. Peter impressed us with his focus and curiosity; Santino with his warmth and sensitivity.
From the beginning, we envisioned the film having two basic themes. It is both a story of new beginnings and a window into modern America that only a newcomer’s perspective allows. Like many immigrants, Peter and Santino had incredibly high expectations for their life in America, but once they arrived the joy of their new discoveries was quickly joined by loneliness and frustration.
We felt that the best way to portray the complexity of this story was to film it in an observational style. In the age of “reality” television that is anything but real, we have attempted to make a film in the vein of the original reality filmmaking of the 1960s — cinema verité. In the field, we were a two-person crew, and we strove to capture the natural flow of their days with as little intrusion as possible. In the editing, we worked to let their story tell itself with minimal interference, using long, unnarrated takes. We hope viewers will bring their own experience and interpretations to the film. Ultimately, we know that movies are an emotional medium. If viewers aren’t drawn to the characters, films don’t work. We hope that people who see the film will connect with Santino and Peter on an emotional level and take away an understanding of how daunting starting a life in this country can be, and what refugees sacrifice to come here.
We came away from our experience of filming with Peter and Santino, with a deepened appreciation for how much we rely on our network of family and friends in our daily lives and how hard it is to function as a newcomer in America without that safety net. We realized that all too often in America we don’t take the time to welcome newcomers or even to embrace our neighbors in what can be an alienating culture. We hope the film can do its part to change that. From what we’ve witnessed, the single most helpful thing for newcomers like the “Lost Boys” is when somebody takes the time to get to know them and help them navigate their new lives. They are resourceful and driven young men who become top-notch students when given a chance, but figuring out which community college is closest to their home or making their way through a telephone-tree of automated class registration can be dispiriting without help.
We are grateful for the opportunity to share the “Lost Boys'” story. We have been forever altered by knowing Santino and Peter and the many other Sudanese we’ve met along the way. Several “Lost Boys” from San Jose collaborated with us on the making of the documentary, working with us as translators and story consultants. They have all added a great deal to our lives. We hope that the film adds to your understanding of what it means for our country to welcome those who have suffered greatly, and what they find here when they arrive.
Megan and Jon