Hope and horror co-exist in “Lost Children,” a compelling, DV-shot docu that visits a rehabilitation camp for Ugandan children who’ve fled forced enrolment as soldiers on the border with Sudan. As it follows four kids’ journey towards normalcy, and two social workers who guide them, pic makes compelling and confronting viewing. This is strong fare for pubcasters and fests with docu streams.
Locked for the past 18 years in a Sudanese border war centered on control of vital oilfields, northern Uganda also has an overlapping and chaotic civil war which even the film-makers find difficult to fathom. Despite its “Christian” ideals, a Sudanese-backed Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, has kidnapped children, enrolled them as fighters and often forced them to attack their own communities. Faced with a kill-or-be-killed scenario, the kids find their moral repugnance to warfare more easily diluted than adults’.
Pic’s center of gravity is the Pajule reception camp, in the middle of the Ugandan war zone, where young social workers Grace Arach and John Bosco prepare children to re-enter the society from which they were snatched. At first, the kids appear to be completely shell-shocked, and are encouraged to express their traumas through drawing and talking.
A sequence where Grace speaks of her difficulty in continuing with the work is moving, but is almost totally eclipsed by the experiences of her charges. Jennifer, 14, and Opio, 8, both speak of their destructive actions and the torture they endured to ensure their military compliance. Lacking any hysteria, these confessions are quietly appalling.
Some children respond better than others. Kilama, who escaped from the LRA after a year, only to find his parents murdered, is first seen as a fearful 13-year-old and later on as a tentatively smiling youngster. But rehabilitation is only part of the journey.
Even after purifying rituals are conducted, families and communities are still not reassured by the return of their children, who are reckoned to bring bad luck. Unable to stay in the camps indefinitely, both Jennifer and Kilama say they’d rather be re-abducted by the LRA than be forced to live with their resentful families.
Though taking a relatively unobtrusive approach when interviewing the children, helmers Ali Samadi Ahadi and Oliver Stoltz don’t spare viewers’ sensibilities with unblinking close-ups of body wounds and uncompromising footage of amputees. Tech credits are rough, and the decision to use dubbing for some sequences and subtitling for others (mainly when children speak in isolation) is off-putting.