In the spring of 2003, three young Americans set out for Africa, in search of adventure and a story. They found what they were looking for. They found a tragedy that changed their lives and has since changed the lives of many who have heard the story. They found the invisible children of Uganda.
Jason Russell, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey headed to Africa with a desire to have their lives changed. Armed with camera equipment they had purchased on eBay, they set out for Sudan, a country that has been rocked with continual war and strife. Unable to find anything in Sudan that could capture their short attention spans they set out for Uganda and soon found themselves in the northern part of that nation. It was there that they found their story.
What they found were children who were being abducted and forced to participate in one of the meaningless, brutal wars that rage in Africa. Young children, even just six or eight years old, are taken from villages and the countryside, are indoctrinated, and forced to bear arms against their own people. They are subjected to unbelievable horrors. They watch their friends and siblings being killed and dismembered simply so their captors can destroy their innocence and shock them into subjection. They are warned that any attempts at escape will end in a brutal, violent death. Those who do escape are hunted like dogs.
Every night the large towns in this part of Uganda fill with children – children who flee the surrounding villages lest they be abducted. Thousands of children migrate to bus parks and hospitals to spend the night in relative safety. Largely unsupervised and with little more than a blanket and the clothes on their backs, these children return night after night. They have no choice. They are desperately poor and suffer terrible abuses. It truly is a tragedy the likes of which is foreign to the mindsets of North Americans.
Invisible Children is a fast-paced MTV-style documentary designed to appeal primarily to young people. The filmmakers say, “This wonderfully crappy rock-and-roll documentary is something truly unique. To see Africa through young eyes is funny, and heart breaking, quick, and informative – all in the very same breath.” While it is not the quality of some of the better documentaries I have seen, I found it well-made and well-produced. In fact, the only real problem I had with the quality of the film was the narrating and voice-overs. They were stilted, unnatural and unsuited to the format of the film. What I watched was only a rough cut of the DVD and I do hope they address the narration before releasing a final cut.
Having brought the story of these invisible children before a North American audience, Russell, Poole and Bailey have great plans for aiding the children. Their plan has three parts. First, they wish to expose the effects of a 20 year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda by telling their stories in a relevant way. Second, they wish to empower the individual viewer towards action (volunteering, donations, the bracelet campaign, political pressure, etc.). Finally, they would like to use the proceeds to provide aid to the invisible children on the ground, in Uganda. “Our dream,” they say, “is to inspire the young and young at heart, to challenge their thinking, and empower them to ‘be the change they wish to see in the world’ through action.” To this end the organization encourages individuals to host viewing parties, to be creative, and ultimately to donate money to the cause. According to the extra features on the DVD, the young men have partnered with World Vision to design communities in Uganda that will provide safe housing and education for the children. These projects can begin only when there are sufficient funds available.
The story this DVD tells is powerful and convicting. It is heart-breaking. I admire the young men for finding this story and for their passion in telling it. Unfortunately I would be hesitant to donate funds to their campaign. I have every confidence that these people are sincere in their desire to help the children of Uganda, but I am less convicted that they will be able to make the impact they desire. Sincerity is not enough: they must also have credibility. I felt that the apparent obsession with South Park, Dave Chappelle and Family Guy along with the immature activities recorded at the beginning of the film (blowing up termite hills with gasoline, chopping snakes into pieces with an axe, and close-in shots of vomitting) damage the credibility of the young men and thus their organization. This may appeal to their target audience, but it will surely prove a hindrance to those who are older and are likely to have more resources available to them.
I should note that the organization does have an active board of directors and that my fears may be unreasonable. “Invisible Children has an active board of directors made up of local businessmen and women who are passionately committed to growing and expanding the effect of Invisible Children both domestically and abroad. They meet on a bi-monthly basis and have the ultimate legal control over Invisible Children. The filmmakers of Invisible Children have creative authority over the film. Their vision is the driving force behind the movement of Invisible Children. The staff at the IC office takes the vision and facilitates action. They are in charge of setting up screenings and events, organizing volunteers, budgeting/financial record keeping, communication with IC representatives in Africa and coordinating the international campaigns.”
My other concern was that, while the three filmmakers are professed Christians, Invisible Children is not a Christian organization. I do hope that those who help the children will do more (and certainly not less) than provide the necessities of life, but also share the Gospel which brings eternal life.
Invisible Children was a chilling DVD and made me profoundly grateful to live in such a safe and innocent part of the world. It truly is a blessing to live in a land of freedom and safety. It made me aware of horrors that are almost unimaginable. I have little doubt that it will stir and motivate many young people to look beyond their comfort zones and see the importance of extending help and comfort to those who are in need. I hope it does. Ultimately I hope God uses it to bring the Gospel to those hurting, abandoned, invisible children, for they are not invisible to Him.
To read more about Invisible Children or to order a DVD, visit invisiblechildren.com.