Duk County, documentary, not rated, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, only, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3.5 chiles As a boy, Sudanese native John Dau escaped genocide in 1997 when Sudanese militants slaughtered villagers in his native Duk County. Dau and thousands of young boys made a perilous journey by foot into Ethiopia seeking refuge. Every day, children died of starvation and dehydration. Known as the Lost Boys, their plight attracted international attention. Thousands, including Dau, were relocated to the United States after years of living in refugee camps. Dau returned to South Sudan in 2007 to found the Duk Lost Boys Clinic, a treatment facility managed by the John Dau Foundation, which provides medical services to more than 75,000 villagers in a region where such care is almost nonexistent.
“What we knew about being blind in South Sudan is that, when you are blind, you die” begins Dau’s narration of Duk County, a documentary on the efforts by a team of medical doctors sent to the clinic to combat the region’s rampant blindness. In Duk County, nearly one in 50 people is totally blind. The region is plagued by famine, disease, and genocide. South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, when it seceded from Sudan after decades of civil war, but intertribal violence still rages. Ophthalmologist Dr. Geoff Tabin leads a team of doctors, along with journalist (and the film’s director) Jordan Campbell and photographer Ace Kvale, whose haunting still images permeate the film, into the heart of conflict.
South Sudan has one of the world’s largest concentrations of blindness, much of it the result of cataracts. But, according Tabin, 80 percent of blindness in the region is preventable or treatable and about half of all cases are completely curable.
Soon after landing in a dusty airfield, the team members were already operating on patients in rooms swarming with fruit flies and bats while groups of vultures watched like sentinels from the rooftops. They worked feverishly to treat patients as waves of fresh violence erupted in the region. Eighty-six villagers were killed in Duk Payuel, the location of the clinic, among them a patient who had just regained his eyesight. Despite the violence, nearly 300 individuals were treated at the clinic in five days. Given the odds, it’s an outstanding achievement, and Campbell’s heartbreaking yet hopeful film makes a strong case for the doctors’ continued efforts.
The screening at the Jean Cocteau Cinema is hosted by Outside magazine and includes a short presentation by Campbell before the film. Sam Moulton, Outside’s executive editor, leads an audience Q & A and discussion afterward. Proceeds benefit the John Dau Foundation.
— Michael Abatemarco