Survival Story: 'God Grew Tired of Us'

Jan. 17, 2006 — -- At the center of all the glamour and excitement of the premiere of a new Hollywood documentary were three Sudanese refugees who, until recently, had never even heard of Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman -- two actors who would eventually play big roles in their lives.

Six years ago, John Bul Dau, 34, Daniel Abul Pach, 25, and Panther Bior, 27, were living in mud huts in a refugee camp in the African nation of Kenya, and had never used electricity or toilets. They had never even heard of a shower or an apartment.

Today they have new lives here in the United States after an extraordinary journey that was, in part, documented by a film crew. Just last week, ABC News caught up with these young men as they mingled with a host of A-list celebrities on the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of "God Grew Tired of Us," the documentary based on their story.

This award-winning new film traces the journey of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" as they traveled from a refugee camp to start a new life in America.

At the premiere, Kidman snapped photos with Dau, Pach and Bior as Angelina Jolie expressed her gratitude to them for bringing their story to the screen. "You guys are my heroes," she told them. "You've survived so much -- and you're just so strong. I'm so glad you're here. You can teach us so many things about life that many people don't know in this town."

'The Lost Boys'

They became known as the "lost boys" because, as children, they were forced from their homes in the Christian-dominated southern Sudan when Muslim militias from the north invaded their villages and sought to kill every male child in the region.

In 1993, an estimated 25,000 "lost boys" gathered in groups -- makeshift families -- and headed for the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya to escape the ravages of genocide. The harrowing journey took several months, and along the way, the boys faced attacks by government troops, starvation, and disease. There were only 12,000 boys left by the end of the journey.

In his new book, released by National Geographic in conjunction with the film, Dau describes climbing trees to catch grasshoppers that they would later cook over an open fire, just to eat the tiniest bit of protein. He also caught and roasted turtles, and ate boiled elephant meat that was so tough he could barely chew the smallest piece. The "lost boys" also ate mud for the bit of moisture it held to quench their incredible thirst along the way to the border.

'A Place Called New York'

When the "lost boys" arrived in the refugee camps set up by the United Nations, they were safe, but there was little food and the conditions were barely livable. Most of the boys remained there for more than 10 years.

After a decade passed, the United Nations Refugee Agency began a program to relocate some of the "lost boys" to the U.S. Pach, Bior and Dau each applied. After rigorous interviews and medical tests, they were accepted, and they began to learn about their future homes.

Pach and Bior discovered they were being relocated to Pittsburgh, and Dau learned he was headed for a place called New York.

"I am going to a place called New York," says the 6-foot-8 Dau. As he pointed to New York on a map, Dau paused and says, "New York … it looks very tiny."

"My leaving for the U.S. is very painful," he continued, surrounded by some of the other boys. "It is not simple. You can see and judge that you will miss a company like this. It is like my family now. … I love them so much."

Coming to America

The filmmakers follow Dau and a group of the boys as they board a plane for the first time and embark on their long flight to America. Some giggle with excitement, but others look confused as they struggle with the overhead luggage bins. When they're served airline meals, one boy unwraps a pad of butter and eats it whole, not realizing what it is, and says, "It tastes like soap."

Others seem bewildered as the airplane captain's voice is heard coming from a mysterious series of tiny holes in the panel above their plane seats. "The voice … where does it come from?" one boy asks.

For the boys, who learned to speak English while living in the refugee camps, everything is new. Even the simplest things like riding an escalator posed a new set of challenges -- and at least one of them has a bit of trouble as he navigates the first couple of steps.

'Is This Food?'

As the "lost boys" arrive in their new homes, there is much to learn about life in America, and the modern conveniences some of us take for granted.

"This is a shower," explains the aid worker who was showing them around their new apartment. "We do not throw things out the window here," he tells them as they crowd into the kitchen. They learn to turn on the lights. "The first thing you have to learn is switch to turn the light on and off," he tells them.

The boys also have an adventure at a grocery store where they seem like visitors from another planet. One thing is clear: They have never seen so much food, and in so many colors.

"Is this food?" one boy asks as he points to a doughnut with colored sprinkles on top. "Hoagie buns?" another says looking at the endless choices of bread in various forms.

Making the Movie

The movie became the passion project of filmmaker Christopher Quinn shortly after he read about the refugees, and decided to act.

"I was reading about Sudan, and the devastation that had taken place there," he says. "And I stumbled onto an article about the 'lost boys,' and I knew at that point I was going to make a documentary about them … the story is so compelling."

As Quinn continued to follow the new lives of Dau, Bior, and Pach, his film became increasingly expensive. Months turned to years, and when it came time to edit the film, Quinn began to run out of funds. He turned to his childhood friend, actor Dermot Mulroney, who was well-connected in Hollywood.

Mulroney recalls that Quinn came to him and says, "We don't have another cent to complete this film. This is the end of it, unless we figure something out."

Help From Hollywood

Mulroney was eager to help and put Quinn in touch with his friend, Pitt, who took an immediate interest in helping the struggling filmmaker finish editing what, he believed, was an important film.

At the film's premiere, Pitt told ABC News that "I was fortunate to come in at kind of the last minute, and get to throw up the last shot. These guys have been working on it for several years and friends of mine, Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener, are very tight with the director. They showed me some rough footage, and I was really moved by the story and jumped in the game. I personally can't imagine being thrown out of my home, being separated from my family."

Kidman is another A-lister who jumped in to help. Keener was shooting "The Interpreter" with Kidman when she learned that Quinn was looking for someone to narrate the film.

"[Keener] called me up and left a message on my cell phone and says, 'Hey, do me a favor, see this film, and would you help us out?'" says Kidman. "And I watched it and it deeply affected me … and I says 'Yeah, of course, I would love to be involved, it would be my honor.'"

Quinn traveled to Baltimore, where Kidman was working, and they tracked the film in one afternoon.

Critical Acclaim

"God Grew Tired of Us" went on to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.

While Christopher Quinn was suddenly receiving critical acclaim for his film, Dau, who also attended Sundance, was experiencing his own taste of life in the spotlight.

Dau met a "nice man" who shook his hand and spoke to him after the screening. "He says his name was Brad Pitt," recalls Dau. "I had not heard of him, so I asked him what he did. He says he worked as the executive producer of Christopher's documentary. Sometime later, someone told me Brad also acted in movies."

What seems to move people about this film is not only the story of the "lost boys" but also what the boys' experiences reveal about America. Many of them were surprised to learn that you can't just go to a neighbor's house at any time to say hello.

Pach pointed out that some Americans take a lot for granted. "They don't see that they have everything," he says. "What do you want? What is not available in America? You need a car, you have it. You need an airplane, you have it."

Where Are They Now?

Today, Bior and Pach continue to live and work in Pittsburgh, and have earned college degrees. Dau is working on his master's degree and lives in Syracuse with his wife and newborn baby. He and his wife were sworn in as U.S. citizens last month, and Dau also works tirelessly, traveling around the country to promote awareness of the plight of the Sudanese people. He is also raising money to build a medical clinic in Duk County, where he was born.

If you would like to learn more about the "lost boys" or find out how you can help, visit:

National Geographic

American Care for Sudan Foundation

"God Grew Tired of Us"

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