As South Sudan hangs in the balance of a tenuous peace agreement, my mother, Nyandeng, prepares to become one of our country’s five vice presidents. Her mission is to safeguard her late husband, John Garang’s, vision for our people, our country, and our family.
At the heart of Nyandeng is an intergenerational conversation between my mother and me. In the opening scene, she is sat, alone, on the edge of her bed in a nightgown. Since my father passed away in 2005, she has been sharing her dreams and nightmares with me — her hopes and fears for our family, our people and our country. It’s always in the early hours of the morning when her heart is heaviest. This part of the film uncovers her greatest fear, which is that my father along with millions of South Sudanese people died in vain, and her deepest yearning, which is for her children to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives at home in South Sudan. In August 2019, I begin to capture moments in her life as she prepares to become one of five vice presidents in a new government. From behind the camera, and in the spirit of cinema verité, I do not attempt to absent my presence, the filmmaking process, or the nature of my relationship with the protagonist. We move from high-level meetings, to church gatherings, to my father’s mausoleum. She mostly doesn’t acknowledge my presence, and the people she interacts with follow her example. But at times, she speaks to me, or I conduct an impromptu interview – seeking out her thoughts in the belly of unfolding events. These parts of the film constitute the present and provide its narrative trajectory with the February 22nd swearing in of the vice presidents serving as a climax. Woven through my mother’s eventful present path, is my own journey. I travel around East Africa seeking archival material of my family that I have been told is scattered across the region. Through this search, I examine what it means to be South Sudanese and struggle to make sense of my own fragmented identity. What does it mean to be from a place I have never called home? So many young South Sudanese people were born and raised outside of the country and yet, whenever there is the tiniest shimmer of hope, people return.