Grace, Milly, Lucy . . . Child Soldiers is a film that has a major challenge. It broaches a painful subject, that of child soldiers in Uganda, who are kidnapped and forced into warfare and sexual slavery by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Compounding the film’s challenge is the urgency of this subject; the insurgency continues, and more children will be kidnapped. A lesser documentary would struggle with approaching such a horrific situation, and a clumsier documentary would shriller, more condescending tone. Rather, director Raymonde Provencher has managed to make a film that speaks honestly and directory, but has kept the tone of the film both respectful and urgent. This is a rare, but welcome combination.
Provencher, wisely, does not appear in her own documentary. Instead, the titular Grace, Milly, and Lucy (and a host of other former child soldiers) are free to tell their stories themselves. The majority of the film is just that – one of the principle characters will quietly tell her story to the camera, pausing and explaining as necessary. Sometimes Provencher will juxtapose this with images of rural Uganda, but not always. This is the closest thing to actually speaking to Grace, Milly, or Lucy personally. Political background to this conflict is ignored because it is beside the point – our focus is on the harrowing experiences of former child soldiers. In fact, we are not even shown images of current child soldiers until more than halfway through the film. Any sooner would be too much for an audience to bear.
The tone cultivated in this film is quiet and respectful, but urgent. Western filmmakers have an unfortunate (but nevertheless well-earned) reputation for being exploitive of third world subjects, but Provencher has worked hard to avoid that particular bugbear. Grace, Milly, and Lucy all have agency, and victimhood is not their only role. Provencher is not just portraying wounds, she is portraying the way wounds heal.
There are not many films that shed light on the situation in Uganda; indeed, partly because the LRA itself is so opaque, it can be a difficult thing to understand. Grace, Milly, and Lucy . . . Child Soldiers will undoubtedly solve part of the problem, but, along with Grace, we must wonder how much longer we can wait for peace.
– Dave Robson
(Grace, Milly, Lucy . . . Child Soldiers will be playing at the Royal on February the twelfth, and the NFB Mediatheque in Toronto from February the thirteenth to the nineteenth. There will be speakers on the twelfth, thirteenth, fifteenth, and seventeenth. Tickets are inexpensive.)