Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Art Imitates Life for Ex-Sudanese Child Soldier Emmanuel Jal in 'The Good Lie'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Art Imitates Life for Ex-Sudanese Child Soldier Emmanuel Jal in 'The Good Lie'

Article excerpt

Art imitates life for former child soldier Jal


TORONTO - By the time he was nine, Emmanuel Jal knew how to fire a gun and go onto a battlefield, a young recruit on the front lines of a bloody conflict.

Decades removed from his life as a child soldier in Sudan's civil war, memories of the harrowing ordeal remain fresh for the 34-year-old Toronto-based musician, whose mother was killed by government forces. It's a painful past he revisits while portraying a Sudanese refugee in "The Good Lie."

"There are some quiet flashbacks, certain scenes that take you back to how life was then. Those are the slightly difficult parts," Jal said in a recent phone interview.

"Then you come back and remember that you're in the present."

Helmed by Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, "The Good Lie" will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7. The story is a fictionalized account of Sudan's Lost Boys, documenting the arduous journey of children who travelled for countless kilometres in unforgiving conditions to seek refuge from the conflict.

Jal -- who hails from South Sudan -- portrays Paul, part of a tight-knit group given the chance of a fresh start as they migrate from a Kenyan refugee camp to the U.S. An employment agency counsellor (Reese Witherspoon) enlisted to help them find jobs forges an unlikely bond with the newcomers and winds up taking them under her wing.

"I think it's going to create conscious awakening," Jal said of the film. "It's a way that makes even the work of any person who has suffered easier because human beings, we are the same all over the world. We empathize about other people's pain. ... When somebody's situation has hit you hard, you don't think twice -- you act."

The childhood struggles of the Lost Boys depicted in "The Good Lie" bear similarities to Jal's own life

Jal's father sent him to Ethiopia with the promise of education looming in the neighbouring nation. His lengthy journey proved treacherous.

"A lot of kids died of starvation on the way. Some died of dehydration. Some were eaten by wild animals," recalled Jal, who was the subject of the 2008 documentary "War Child" and a book of the same name. "Crossing the rivers was also difficult because we had hippos that don't eat people but they would just smash kids, and crocodiles, too, were ambushing us to eat us."

Jal eventually ended up being conscripted into service as a child soldier with Sudan People's Liberation Army. He was fuelled by memories of his village burning and family members claimed by the war to endure the challenging training process. …

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