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Jon Shenk finds his calling through Lost Boys of Sudan BY steve ramos

Inside Local Films

By · July 21st, 2004 · Close Up
Jon Shenk
Jon Shenk

The civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan continues to rage as Arab militias rape and kill black Africans. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is in the news for visiting Sudan, but the core issue of providing safety for the Sudanese people remains.

More than any newspaper article, the most powerful mouthpiece for humanitarian efforts to Sudan is Lost Boys of Sudan, a rousing documentary by Cincinnati native Jon Shenk and co-director Megan Mylan (the film plays July 24 and 28 at the Cincinnati Art Museum Auditorium).

Inspired by a newspaper article Shenk and Mylan read in early 2001, Lost Boys of Sudan follows two young men, Peter Dut and Santino Chuor, from a Kenya refugee camp to their relocation to America.

Through the boys' experiences, audiences learn about the U.S. refugee process, the human toll of Sudan's evil civil war and finally, the challenges of making friends in American suburbia.

The Sudanese civil war is a vast, complex issue, but Shenk and Mylan put a human face on the issue by following Dut and Chuor.

"We have people walk out of the film, and they immediately want to do something," Shenk said, speaking recently from his home in San Francisco. "That's the power of film. It can get under your skin in an emotional way."

Shenk was born in 1969 in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming. He left Cincinnati at age 18 to attend Yale University. After his 1991 graduation, Shenk didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. He discovered documentary films like The Thin Blue Line and The Life and Times of Harvey Milk at college. So he relocated to San Francisco to be with friends and work within the Bay Area's documentary community.

Shenk found his calling in San Francisco. He enrolled at Stanford University, where he earned a master's degree in documentary filmmaking in 1995. At Stanford, Shenk met his wife, Bonni Cohen, another student in the documentary program. Finally, he had his career, his passion and someone to share it with.

Shenk honed his filmmaking skills working for George Lucas, filming making-of films for the Star Wars DVDs. He was a cameraman for PBS and National Geographic before starting his own production company, Actual Films.

Work is extremely busy. Upcoming documentaries include one about Afghanistan and another about artwork looted from Europe during World War II.

Shenk also continues to work in support of Lost Boys of Sudan, which plays select cinemas nationwide before a PBS broadcast later this year.

After years of uncertainty, Shenk has found his calling in the world of documentary film, and he hasn't looked back. ©



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