SXSW Film Review: ‘Madina’s Dream’

Andrew Berends' documentary looks at civil war in Sudan's Nuba Mountains as well as the refugee camps they've flooded to the south.

Madina, Aziza, Howa, Sadia, Zayneb, Commander Ismael, Jabril, Kuku Jass, Amjema, Najoum. (Sudanese Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4151472/

A potent look at civil war in Sudan, “Madina’s Dream” provides eyewitness reportage of an ongoing, lesser-sung African regional/ethnic conflict. This latest documentary from Andrew Berends (“Delta Boys,” “The Blood of My Brother”) looks at refugee camps as well as life in the Nuba Mountains war zones where government forces are trying to annihilate rebel forces, as well as unfortunate locals caught in the crossfire. Programmers interested in global politics and human rights issues will want to check out this well-crafted memo from the frontlines.

The titular figure is an 11-year-old girl who, like myriad others, has fled her battle-torn native region for refugee camps in South Sudan (which won independence in 2011), where she has a better shot at survival — meaning food, water, shelter, even an education. When her mother dies, however, Madina must quit school to care for her younger siblings full-time.

But the focus here isn’t on individual stories so much as the overall situation, in the camps and back home. In the former, medical personnel deal with the consequences of long-term deprivation, war wounds and disease among those who’ve survived the long trek from their native lands. In the latter, residents try to persevere despite governmentt forces regularly strafing their villages and agricultural fields in an effort to starve out the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

All curse Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s ethnic-cleansing policies. (No government spokespeople are heard from here to defend his actions.) Yet the rebels are surprisingly lenient toward captured enemy soldiers — in large part because many of those are Nubans themselves, forced by poverty or misled by false promises into “brother against brother” military service.

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Toward the end, Berends’ camera gets right into the middle of an airstrike, as he, rebels and villagers alike scramble for cover. Given the largely verite nature of the content here (which includes some grisly hospital and bombing-aftermath footage), lensing and sound are fairly high-grade, as are other packaging elements.

SXSW Film Review: 'Madina's Dream'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 15, 2015. Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Storyteller Prods. production. Produced by Andrew Berends.

Crew: Directed by Andrew Berends. Camera (color, HD), Berends; editors, Ashley Jenkins, Berends; music, Stephen Barton; sound, Berends; sound designers/re-recording mixers, Chen Harpaz, Sean Canada.

With: Madina, Aziza, Howa, Sadia, Zayneb, Commander Ismael, Jabril, Kuku Jass, Amjema, Najoum. (Sudanese Arabic dialogue)

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