The director of an award-winning film about child soldiers in Africa has said that these children’s real life experiences are far too brutal to be shown on film.
Cannes film festival winner, The Silent Army, is a re-cut, international version of the 2008 Dutch movie Wit Licht meaning White Light, a film about the plight of northern Ugandan children forced to join the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
Until they were driven out of Uganda in 2005, the LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, put fear into the heart of communities, snatching children from their families, forcing boys to fight and using girls as ‘wives.’
But Dutch director Jean van de Velde has said what these children actually experienced at the hands of the rebels is far worse than shown in his disturbing film.
"There are much more harrowing, horrific things that I could never show in a movie because it's too ugly," he told Reuters news service.
The film focuses on Eduard Zuiderwijk, a white restaurant owner in a town bordering a conflict zone, who is finding it tough bringing up his son after his wife died suddenly.
Eduard's son, Thomas, is friends with Abu, whose mother works in the restaurant. But one night, Abu's village is attacked, houses are burned and he, along with many other children is abducted.
Eduard attempts to track down Abu and the plot finds the young boy being recruited into a rebel camp, fronted by an ex minister who made his recruits call him ‘Daddy’.
Researching the film, Van de Velde visited camps in the northern Ugandan towns of Gulu and Kitgum, and spoke to children who had escaped the rebels.
Many of the children he met were traumatised by their experiences: "Even after they escaped they were afraid that all their thoughts were heard,” he said. "They hardly ever talked, and they were not doing drugs at all,” he said, adding that what was used to control them ‘was sheer psychological terror.’
"Once they were abducted, most of them had to kill either the mother or the father ... while the elders of the village were watching. These children were hardly able to come back. There's no reason to escape. What do they have to come back to, if the people of the village saw these atrocities?"
Today, more than 250,000 children around the world are being exploited as child soldiers, according to figures from the charity, War Child. While the film itself is fiction, the stories of the children in this movie are based on real life experiences of child soldiers and other children affected by war.