Judge Gordon Sullivan says that for the world to focus on Darfur, the documentarians have to stay focused.
Six Stories. One Hope.
The conflict in Darfur has garnered a considerable amount of attention in the media (although some would say not enough), and this documentary hopes to gives those looking for more than a sound bite the lowdown on the genocide. For those who've never heard of Darfur, this documentary will be eye opening. For those who are already familiar with the difficulties in Darfur, there's not enough new information to make this a particularly useful film.
Facts of the Case
For those of you not up on the situation in Darfur, this is what the DVD package has to say:
"According to ENOUGH Project, Darfur, located in the western region of Sudan, has been torn apart by the 21st century's first genocide. In 2003, two rebel groups launched attacks against the central government. The rebels claimed years of political, economic, and social marginalization, and hailed from non-Arab communities. The government of Khartoum responded by recruiting, arming, training, and supporting an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed to systematically destroy non-Arab civilian communities."
Darfur Now looks at the repercussions of the conflict in Darfur through the lives of six individuals committed to making it better:
• Adam Sterling is an activist in the United States who is working in his home state of California to get a bill passed that will divest the state of California of its investments in companies that deal with the government committing the genocide.
• Pablo Recalde is the head of the World Food Program leader in Western Darfur. His job is to ensure that humanitarian convoys of food and medicine get to the camps for those forced to relocate because of the Janjaweed.
• Hejewa Adam is woman who was displaced by the Janjaweed, who also killed her son. Instead of joining one of the camps, she decides to become part of the rebel forces working to overthrow the corrupt government of Khartoum.
• Ahmed Mohamed Abakar is the leader of a village displaced by the Janjaweed. He must try to negotiate food and aid for the villagers under his care while dealing with the difficulties of the camps, including corruption and attack.
• Luis Moreno-Ocampo is a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. Despite the fact that he cannot travel to Darfur, he is charged with investigating the human rights violations and war crimes occurring in Darfur.
• Don Cheadle (Ocean's 11) is an actor and author who involves himself in the struggle over Darfur by working as part of a diplomatic group (along with pal George Clooney) to petition governments—including those of China, Egypt, and the United States—to break economic ties with Khartoum.
Darfur Now is a movie with a message: the people of Darfur need help. The problem with the film is that if you're at all familiar with Darfur, you already know this. If you're not familiar with Darfur, then I don't think this film is the best introduction, because for several reasons it is a very frustrating movie.
There's not much in the way of overall narrative, no obvious goal or moment the film is building to. In the last 10 minutes, the film becomes mostly about getting the California divestment bill signed, but before that, the film seems like a random collection of vignettes about people connected with helping the victims in Darfur. I understand that part of the point of the film is that anyone can make a difference, so the fractured nature of the film makes sense; however, that doesn't make it more watchable.
The film's tagline boasts that the film is six stories. That's at least three stories too many. Part of the problem is that 98 minutes is a little long for the documentary as a whole, but it's way too short to cover six people's involvement with enough detail. Pablo and Ahmed gets especially short shrift in this film. The other problem is that several of these people seem like poor entry points into the story of Darfur. The film gives us info (generally facts and figures) through subtitles, but it also gives us the people of Darfur telling their own stories. Between these two avenues of information, I learned enough about what was going on to not really care too much about the efforts of Don Cheadle and Adam Sterling. Letting the facts and the people (including Ahmed and Hejewa) speak for themselves seemed so much more elegant.
Make no mistake; what's happening in Darfur is a tragedy. However, I wish the film could have done more to focus on the people and their plight instead of the rescue efforts of people like Sterling and Cheadle.
Despite my dislike for the film's narrative structure, it is well-presented on DVD. Instead of the traditional plastic keep-case, Darfur Now comes in a cardboard sleeve sized like a traditional case (similar to the ones used for An Inconvenient Truth). Inside are descriptions of organizations involved with helping the people of Darfur (as well as info on how you can contribute). The video on this disc looks really good, very clean with nice color saturation. The audio is clear and balanced with no apparent source issues. The extras include an introduction and commentary by writer/director Theodore Braun and some additional scenes that are worth watching for those who enjoyed the feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I was impressed that the filmmaker gave the Sudanese ambassador (who claims that the word "genocide" is an overdramatizing of the events of Darfur) a couple of scenes where he could speak for himself with no obvious editorial inteference. Despite the fact that he's saying things that sound ridiculous if you believe all the other people in the film, there are no obvious visual or aural attempts to undermine him or make him look stupid (like Michael Moore might try to do).
There is also a tremendous amount of hope on display. Despite the loss of homes, villages, and family members most of the victims seem more angry than despairing, and many more seem hopeful that the rebels or outside forces will prevail over the government in Khartoum. In that way, it's an inspiring movie.
Although I didn't like the six-stranded narrative, I wanted to see more of a couple of the participants. I think both Hejewa Adam and Luis Moreno-Ocampo could sustain 90-minute documentaries on their own. Hejewa is fascinating because she chose to join the rebel militia after her son was killed. Although we see a number of scenes dealing with her involvement with them, I really wanted to see her whole story. Luis is equally fascinating because of his many years of involvement in prosecuting war crimes, including the difficulties in Argentina. I'd love to watch a film about his involvement in the International Criminal Court.
I have no doubt that the genocide in Darfur needs greater exposure, but sadly this documentary isn't the best venue. Everyone involved seems to have the best intentions, but the film is a frustrating watch because it bounces around too much to be as engrossing as the subject demands. However, the presentation of this DVD is easy to recommend.
Darfur Now is guilty of underutilizing an education opportunity.
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