The Good Lie, through fictionalised characters, tells a story detailing how the mid 1980s civil war in Sudan left millions of displaced refugees without home or country, among them, thousands of orphan boys and girls who had escaped the massacres.These children, mainly boys away from their villages tending cattle when Northern militia killed their tribes became known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan,.” The children travelled in droves over a thousand miles on foot through sub-Saharan Africa only to linger for decades in the Kakuma refugee camp at the Kenyan border which stands to this day. In the largest resettlement program in US history 3600 of these orphans finally emmigrated to America to build new lives and to begin to navigate the extreme culture change required to understand and to be understood within their new society while holding onto the values and culture of Sudan that had aided their survival.
The film centres around three boys, Mamere, Paul and Jeremiah, Mamere’s older brother Theo and younger sister Abidal, as children and then 13 years later as young adults remaking their lives in a country with bewildering ways. Says director, Philippe Falardeau, “They come from a place with no electricity, running water or modern technology, so they need to quickly acquire basic life skills before understanding how this society works and being a part of it. They are helped, at first reluctantly, by Carrie Davis, whose job it is to find them employment, and an unlikely friendship emerges from that. She will be as impacted by them as much as they are impacted by her.”
Reese Witherspoon, who plays Carrie notes, “I was immediately pulled in by the story of the Lost Boys, just seeing their struggle and how they fought to survive…and then getting the opportunity to start over again in America and what inherent challenges that presented to them. The script really offered a perspective of these two worlds meeting.”
British actor Arnold Oceng, who was cast as Mamere, adds “Just imagine suddenly being given these three scared refugees to look after. It’s probably not going to fit into your life plan. But you have to give Carrie credit—she takes them on, and they somehow manage to touch her heart.”
To create a film with heart, humanity and humour without trivialising brutal events or making them difficult to watch was the challenge faced by the filmmakers. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle invested through her writing to ‘bring light to the dark places’ travelled to meet around a thousand of these orphans to obtain first hand accounts of their experience which led her to come up with a composite story representing at least some of what the Lost Boy’s had gone through.The project producers, keen to retain authenticity, put together a cast & crew with deep ties to the material. Director Philippe Falardeau had been present documenting the war in Southern Sudan at the time and had to be evacuated by the UN, with no choice but to leave people behind some of whom he knew would surely die. “I felt guilty that I was able to go and not them. Of course I knew it was not my fault, but as I was lifting off, I had this feeling that I had abandoned them, and that feeling stayed with me until I read Margaret Nagle’s script. It was calling me to go back there to tell their story. I called my agent and said ‘You have to understand, it’s not only that I want to do this, it’s that I must
In casting too, it was important to Philippe to cast Sudanese actors to give their own voice to their story. Over a six month worldwide casting call working with Sudanese communities, the team found the best actors and actresses possible who had a genuine connection to the events, some already established performers but for some this was their screen debut. Of the main cast, Ger Duany (Jeremiah) and Emmanuel Jal (Paul) were both former Lost Boys forced to become child soldiers brutally treated before escaping to safety, Arnold Oceng, (Mamere) fled the war zone with his Ugandan mother at age two after his Sudanese father was killed. Kuoth Wiel (Abital) was born in an Ethiopian refugee camp and lost her father, a doctor, to the war in Sudan when she was five. Her brother, one of the Lost Boys, walked an arduous journey from Sudan to Ethiopia then Kenya before eventually emigrating to the US.
For the younger cast born outside Africa who played the many child characters, most were re-enacting their parent’s story, parents who became willing participants in the film, consulting with the filmmakers on how things happened for them despite locations briging back traumatic memories of their own youthful flight.The older actors, too held memories that permeated their experience of filming. Dunay recalls “With this movie, it’s like I’m reliving my past. Sometimes we must go through this and that and then we grow out of it and see the light. I would say I had come to see the light, but with this movie I had to go back again…I had to face my own journey.”
Director Falardeau states, “We had a truly fantastic cast, who were all so invested in this film. For our Sudanese cast, it was personal, but it became almost as personal for our American actors as well. They all took great joy in bringing this important story to light,” adding “I think this is close to what these young people lived, with both the tremendous drama at the beginning and the humour and moving moments throughout… the Lost Boys’ story is important to tell not only because it’s become part of the American landscape, but to show that these things happened and still continue to happen in Africa. Even in Sudan right now, there is much tension and nothing is really settled.
“I think it’s also important to show that it’s not just about what we can bring to them, but what they bring to us—not as immigrants but as individuals,” he emphasizes. “There are many ways to view and experience the world and ours is not the only way, and ‘The Good Lie’ is very much about that, too. The common theme to all my films is the idea of ‘the other.’ We know who we are, or think we do, but do we know the others that surround us? Letting people into our lives is a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking.”
The Good Lie opens in UK cinemas from 24th April.