We Were Rebels: Former Child Soldiers in South Sudan
By Ratha Lehall
On Friday 10 April, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of We Were Rebels, which was followed by a Q&A with director Florian Schewe. The film focuses on the struggles of South Sudan, the word’s youngest country, following its independence and through the eyes of Agel, a former child soldier during the civil war. Agel was able to flee Sudan and become a professional basketball player in Australia. On his return to South Sudan following independence, he joined his national team as captain and, after injury forced him into early retirement, focused on helping to build the country through his new development NGO.
We Were Rebels was well received by the Frontline Club audience, with many wanting to know about the film’s key protagonist, Agel. The former child soldier, portrayed as an active and patriotic member of his community, was optimistic about the future of his new country but also reflective on its shortcomings and limitations.
Schewe explained that he had met Agel in 2010, and had originally intended to include him, as captain of the new national basketball team, in a series of short films about South Sudan. When this project fell through, Schewe and co-director Katharina von Schroeder decided to work on a new documentary focusing solely on Agel.
Despite his height, Schewe told the audience that the project felt more like a collaboration with Agel rather than a standard protagonist/director dynamic; they saw “eye-to-eye” throughout. However, Agel was also very conscious of the power of the media in relation to the portrayal of the conflict in South Sudan, and was motivated by using the documentary as a “tool.”
Schewe also discussed the many restrictions and obstacles encountered during filming. The team were forced to apply for endless permits in order to film in South Sudan, and every visit to a new village or town involved a substantial amount of bureaucracy before filming could commence. As the country was still so new, many of the areas requiring administration were still being developed. Schewe also told Frontline Club audience members that the government and the “foundation of the society” in the nation were largely ex-military.
In response to a question on the general attitude towards former child soldiers, Schewe said that he encountered very little bitterness or resentment from general society towards the ex-military members of the government. The South Sudanese instead targeted their anger at the attacking North, and viewed the use of child soldiers as legitimate. Schewe said:
“Every family was affected. In the society there are now many ruptures. The current ruling party was once the rebel army and every powerful government person was once in the military. But there is no blame on the military for making them child soldiers, it is viewed by most as a just cause.”
However, much corruption remains within the government in South Sudan. An audience member enquired into the infrastructure of the government. Schewe responded that, unfortunately, he had been witness to huge amounts of corruption and that, due to the lack of resources and the difficult relationship with Sudan, the country remained underdeveloped.
We Were Rebels also highlighted the re-starting of violence in the young country. This was largely due to difficulties relating to oil, South Sudan’s main source of income, which was increasingly becoming inaccessible due to sanctions put in place by Sudan. Schewe ended the Q&A session by explaining that oil had since started to again be distributed, and that South Sudan had also begun talks with Kenya and China.
Click here for more information on the film and upcoming screenings.