In 1989, frustrated by the mainstream media’s lack of interest in the Sudanese famine, French journalist and filmmaker Patrice Barrat took a small film crew to Pinyudo Refugee camp in Ethiopia. There Barrat met two 8-year-old Sudanese boys seeking refuge, David Nyuol Vincent and his friend Emmanuel Jal. The boys were watched over by U.N. workers by day, but at night were secretly subjected to enforced militia training.
Not knowing this at the time, Barrat focused on documenting the boys friendship, believing this could help to connect a Western audience with the plight of the Sudanese people. In the process Barrat became attached to the boys, and returned to France fearing for their fate. Meanwhile the resulting film, ‘Famine Fatigue’ was broadcast on television around the world. Revisiting the camp in 1990, he was relieved to find David & Emmanuel alive and building a life for themselves through education and the love of soccer.
A year later, Barrat attempted once again to return to Pinyudo but was told that air raids had destroyed the camp. Even refugees who had escaped this fate and attempted to re-enter Sudan were bombed – no one had escaped death. Barrat struggled emotionally with the news that the two boys were no longer alive.
However, David had survived this tragic upheaval and had walked for a month to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, his home for the next thirteen years. He did not hear from Emmanuel Jal again and believed he had perished when fleeing Ethiopia.
In 2004, David was relocated to Australia where he completed a BA double major in criminology and political science at Melbourne University, became a community worker and started his own family. In 2012 David’s life story was published as a book ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die’. While David’s story of survival is an extraordinary one, what makes it more so is his commitment to strengthening the Sudanese community in Australia, as well as creating a peaceful future in South Sudan. This commitment comes from David’s own internal transformation from that of a traumatized young man seeking revenge to an emerging leader modeling conflict resolution to other young Sudanese.
In 2009 David found Emmanuel Jal on Facebook. Jal had spent 5 years as a child soldier before being rescued by British aid worker Emma McClune. Dubbed by some in the media as the “warlord’s wife” Emma was married to Dr. Reik Machar, a leading commander in the armed wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which was at that time spearheading the war for South Sudan’s independence from the north.
Away from the refugee camp Emmanuel began the process of creating a life for himself as a hip-hop artist. He now has a worldwide audience and uses his public profile to advocate for peace in South Sudan. “Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission.” Central to the themes of his songs is the campaign for peace of opposing sides in South Sudan and the clear message that children have no place in wars.
Since reconnecting, David and Jal understand they have much in common. Both have chosen the path of forgiveness and have made the promotion of peace their lifes work- David through his public speaking and advocacy work and Jal through his music. Both run grassroots charities within South Sudan that focus on fundamental needs including education and housing.
The two main tribes in South Sudan, Dinka and Nuer, are represented through these powerful figures, Salva Kir and Dr. Reik Machar. Both have been central figures in Sudanese and Sth Sudanese politics for over 3 decades and, although a ‘cessation of hostilities cease fire’ has been agreed upon in Ethiopia, reconcilliation between the two has not yet been achieved. Only when an alliance is formed between these two men will a stable and functioning South Sudan be possible.
Their story is a topical and timely exploration of the political through the personal; the impact of one person’s positive action amongst the stripping of tolerance for asylum seekers and refugees in his adopted land, Australia, and renewed turbulence and violence in South Sudan.
This documentary focusses on the life of Sudanese refugee and Australian resident David Nyuol Vincent. By exploring the life and experience of just one refugee THE BOY WHO WOULDN’T DIE will depict and reflect the dire circumstances and life and death struggles that affect and motivate many refugees to further risk their lives to escape their past, and to seek sanctuary to make a new life for themselves. In a very dark period in Australia’s history, when refugees have become a political football and are vilified rather than being extended a humanitarian hand, David’s story stands out like a beacon. It demonstrates that when given the opportunity and shown compassion just how much refugees of any ethnic persuasion can make a valuable contribution and help continue to ensure the richness that multi-cultural Australia’s social and cultural life can truly achieve.
I first met David when I was working as a volunteer at a refugee settlement program in Melbourne. Over the last seven years we have been working together to tell his story. I have watched his life and his country change and have often had the opportunity to film these occurances. The visual style of THE BOY WHO WOULDN’T DIE consists of film material shot to date, observational footage yet to be shot, archival material, television newsreels, newspaper photographs and graphics, and a central interview with David will be supported by other talking head interviews. Over one hundred hours of HDV observational footage from Melbourne, South Sudan, Holland and France has been filmed from 2010 – 2016.
The film will illustrate the idea that being a refugee is not a choice, but that extraordinary things can be achieved when given a new chance at life. After living for 18 years in camps David was granted a visa to Melbourne, Australia. After completing a double degree, David secured a job with the Brotherhood of St Lawrence where he was the community liaison officer working with refugees. He also advised the organisation on issues affecting refugees and cultural awareness and ran a ‘breakfast club’ for children who live at the Fitzroy commission flats. Scenes in the film show the tremendous love that the young children at the Breakfast club feel for David.
The documentary shows David as a community leader appearing as a spokesperson at the launch of the VEOHRC – ‘Rights of Passage’ report in October 2011, interviewed on ABC Stateline and also named as one of the 100 most influential people in Melbourne by ‘The Age’ newspaper.
David is shown to also play a pivotal role in mobilising 500 Australian Sudanese people who took to the streets of Melbourne with the intention of raising awareness of the historic 2011 referendum in Sudan and requesting support from the Australian Government. Six months later footage of the polling booths in Footscray on voting day show an exuberant South Sudanese crowd singing and dancing as they cast their votes, 99% of whom vote for succession from Sudan.
On referendum day, David is filmed in Warrap, South Sudan voting in a small regional polling booth. Using his fingerprint as proof of identity as he votes for secession. After the personal trauma that he has suffered at the hands of the Northern Sudanese this was a satisfying and exciting day for him. Over the other side of the world, his friend Emmanuel Jal wrote and recorded a song about peace in the run up to the succession vote. George Clooney, Alicia Keys, Kofi Annan, and Richard Branson were all part of the recording of this song.
In 2012 David was nominated by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission for the People of Australia Ambassadors program, which aims to promote multiculturalism in Australia. When PM Julia Gillard announced the 40 ambassadors, David was one of the 10 people chosen in Australia.
Whilst David’s at times painful process of being accepted and his struggle to make a new life for himself is not significantly different from other refugees caught in previous waves of migration to Australia, the cultural and social difficulties of many South Sudanese to succeed in Australia is not easily understood. Nor are the complex historical and social nuances of the country from which they have come widely known.
This was not helped in 2007 when Kevin Andrews, the then immigration minister declared publically that Africans were committing too much crime and were not able to integrate. His comments were a response to the senseless murder of 18-year-old Sudanese man Liep Gony, and his agenda at the time was to justify his decision to cut African quotas of immigrants. On further enquiry it turned out that Liep Gony was murdered by two young, white, racist Australian men.
Davids peaceful protest at the time was to greet Kevin Andrews at Federation square in Melbourne with his face covered in white zinc cream and eating a Vegemite sandwich as a way to express his desire to assimilate with the ‘Australian way of life.’ To this day the legacy of Andrew’s false public comments is the seed of uncertainty planted within the Australian community as to the ability of Africans to settle in their country.
The Sudanese community find it hard to share their pain with each other. They know the trauma of what occurred in the war, its familiar to each and every one of them. For many years David refused to speak about his life. He was then encouraged to tell his story by the IOC and during this process began to heal and to forgive. He realised this opened the gate for others to connect through their shared loss. ‘Those memories are part of me, and they fuel my passion and push me to work harder. There may be unpleasant memories in life but you can turn them into positive energy’
Davids star continues to rise and a book about his life ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die’ was published in 2012. The book was launched by the former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in Red Hill, Victoria and again by Rafael Epstein at the Fitzroy Town Hall (footage available). As an antidote to the negative media coverage that aslym seekers and refugees receive in Australia, Davids story of resilience received much positive media attention; he was interviewed on ABC radio and for the 7.30 report. (footage exists of both of these events) Malcolm Fraser has also agreed to be interviewed seperately for this documentary.
While living in the camp as a child David was chosen as a spokesperson and interviewed over consecutive days with fellow lost boy & now hip hop artist – Emmanual Jahl. (FAMINE FATIGUE – Patrice Barrat – article 2, 1990) . This footage unblinkingly shows us the extreme conditions that David was forced to adapt to as a child.
In September 2013, I spent 4 days with Patrice Barrat at his home in Belle Ile, France. During this time I interviewed him at length about his life and his motivation to travel to the refugee camp in Ethiopia in 1989. When no one else was interested he dared to care and the result was a film called ‘Famine Fatigue’ which was broadcast throughout the world raising awareness about the civil war and resulting famine for the Sudanese people. When the accepted way to deal with refugee children was to take a photo of the child holding a number (UNICEF) to identify them, Patrice filmed the human connection that he witnessed between 8 year old David Vincent and his friend Emmanuel Jal. How was it that the two boys chosen by Barrat for his film, against all odds survived and have now have both become public figures? Both have pursued the path of forgiveness not as a charitable gesture but as a way to salvation. David and Emmanuel recently reconnected through Facebook and have now reestablished their friendship with a deep trust that they intend to turn into positive action.
After surviving death many times as a boy, David made himself a promise- if he got out of the camp he would do something to make sure others would not suffer in the way he did. He returns to his home in the small town of Turolai to see his long lost brother, father and mother. Documenting the stories of Davids parents, both who survived the war helps bridge the gap between generations and in his own history.
Davids early life is marred by severed connections with family and friends. He was separated from his mother as a child. Years living in refugee camps saw many friends die from violence and disease and David missed them all. Alternatively when older people took an interest in him in the camp it made a huge impact in his life. One such mentor was a Japanese aid worker, Noriaki who had been his soccer team manager when living in Kakuma refugee camp. Their team of young refugee boys were accepted to play in the national championship. On the way to compete in this exciting competition, Noriaki tragically died in a car accident. David and the whole football team were inconsolable. In this documentary we witness David visiting Noriakis parents in Japan for the first time showing the tremendous impact that their son had on his life.
David has recently started a charity called ‘Peace Palette’ that promotes peace in South Sudan and will engage youth through sport, art and drama. David is working with his Japanese friend Aya on this project and the intention is ‘We don’t need to reproduce the experiences of the past , we need a generation with a new understanding’.
David’s plan is to be an influence and motivator for positive social and economic change for the new nation of South Sudan and he will concentrate on doing it both at a grassroots level and a sophisticated political level. In 2013 David was working directly with Dr. Reik Machar in Sth Sudan but returned to Melbourne after civil war once again threatened the stability of the country. Old political rivalries are causing the people of South Sudan to be killed and driven from their homes in their thousands. Tribal rivalry between the largely Nuer rebels and the Dinka-led government is the original cause. The bloodshed might have started as a political clash between two powerful men; president Salva Kiir and his VP Dr Reik Machar but it is now escalating into an ethnic war.
In 2015, after 23 years David and Patrice were reunited in Den Hague, Holland. Two lives connected by the tragedy of the past are now tied together in a relationship of great potential as they work together with their shared, passionate commitment to healing and reconcilliation.
‘A New Beginning’ has been accepted by the Documentary Australia Foundation as a film with social capital thereby giving it DGR status. Any donation towards this film through the DAF website (at this link) is a 100% tax deduction.
Proudly supported by