Chicago area history teacher Bruce David Janu never intended to make a feature length documentary about the situation in Sudan. Known for his use of Sinatra in the classroom, including the infamous "Frank Sinatra Detention club," Janu stumbled into feature-filmmaking after meeting Brian Burns, a young janitor at his school.
Burns was sweeping floors on the third shift at John Hersey High School in suburban Arlington Heights when the two crossed paths. They struck up a conversation and when Burns began relating his experiences in Sudan, Janu saw an opportunity for his students.
That chance meeting on a Friday afternoon led not to a speaking engagement in front of a class of freshman, but to a feature documentary entitled Facing Sudan. The film highlights the situation in that war-torn country but is uniquely told through the eyes of ordinary individuals who have made a difference there: a suburban housewife, a 73-year-old pediatrician, a grandmother, a high school student, several Sudanese "lost boys" and, of course, Brian Burns.
"Two years ago, if someone said to me that I would be making a documentary about Sudan," says Janu, "I would have told them they were crazy."
It is Janu's students, however, who think that he is the crazy one. In addition to extra credit Sinatra questions on every test, Janu routinely dresses in costume and dances in front of class in an attempt to get the students interested in history. He sings too. One of his raps about absolutism in Europe even made it on You Tube. His students weren't surprised at his turn as a filmmaker. He had already made several educational videos for his classes over the years and many of his students turned out for the Chicago premiere of Facing Sudan at the Illinois International Film Festival last fall, where it won "Best Documentary."
"I put this film together in my spare time down in the basement," Janu says. "I never thought it would get this much attention." In addition to the long hours, he ended up paying for the film using his credit cards.
Although creating the film was arduous and financially challenging, Janu did have help. His subjects supplied much of the footage from Sudan and he discovered two singer/songwriters from Pennsylvania, Tom Flannery and Lorne Clarke, willing to compose an original soundtrack for the film. Passionate about Sudan, the duo contributed songs completely pro bono, including "Crayons and Paper," a heartbreaking song that accompanies drawings made by children from Darfur smuggled out of Sudan by a pediatrician working with Doctors Without Borders.
Facing Sudan has toured the festival circuit and received much critical acclaim, including two "best documentary" awards.
The film has now been released on DVD by Bell, Book & Camera Productions with several deleted scenes, director commentary and a bonus song by Tom Flannery.
In addition, Janu has provided free lesson plans and discussion questions for Facing Sudan, hoping that it will fulfill his ultimate goals: education and awareness.
"Anyone can make a difference in this world," he says. "Especially if you know what's going on. As more people know about Sudan, the more likely something will be done."
Press kit, artwork and photos from the film are available at the official website.