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From horror, comes hope. The film version of Emmanuel Dongala’s critically acclaimed novel about child soldiers and civil war in West Africa, Johnny Mad Dog, won the 2008 Prize of Hope at the Cannes Film Festival last month.

The book, written in French and released in English in 2005, draws on Dongala’s own experience fleeing the Congo Republic in 1997 during a brutal regional conflict. Since arriving in the United States, Dongala, a chemistry professor as well as a novelist, has been a faculty member at Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

“The novel moved me enormously,” the film’s director, Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, told reporters with France 24 and Reuters. Sauvaire’s film closely follows Dongala’s book, telling the story of two teenagers in an unnamed country in war-torn West Africa: Johnny, the ruthless child soldier of the book’s title, and Laokole, an academically promising girl trying to escape the region and save herself and her family.

Sauvaire’s cinematic retelling unfolds in Liberia, the site of a recent brutal civil war. It was filmed on location and features a cast of children who had been soldiers in the Liberian conflict.

The film has been reviewed in the New York Times and elsewhere. Critics hail it as “powerful” and “intense,” a film that will “absolutely grab you by the throat.”

Watch a clip of the film, or purchase a paperback copy of the book from Amazon.com.