The United Nations reports that as of 2007, approximately 200,000 people have been slaughtered and another 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their rural villages and seek shelter in displaced persons camps where living conditions are intolerable.
Forced Into Displaced Persons Camps
This is clearly a situation that desperately needs the kind of widespread exposure that calls people of conscience to take action and insist that the genocide is stopped.
Braun and his camera follow six people who are trying to make a difference. His cast of characters in Darfur includes Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, a displaced farmer who has taken on the role of leader or administrator in an overpopulated, undersupplied refugee camp, and Hejewa Adam, a young woman whose infant son was beaten to death by Janjaweed (Devils On Horseback) militia and who, in retaliation, has joined armed guerrillas who oppose the government and is in training to fight. An Ecuadorian aid worker, Pablo Recalde, faces personal danger and endless frustrations in trying to transport and distribute food and other supplies to starving people. In The Hague, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, who is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, investigates the situation in Darfur and works to obtain indictments against the Sudanese. And in the U.S., Adam Sterling, a USC graduate student who has taken on the cause, lobbies California politicos, including Governor Schwarzenegger, to pass laws that will prevent the state from doing business with companies that sustain interests in Sudan.
Don Cheadle Steps Up
Then, there’s Don Cheadle. After acting in Hotel Rwanda and learning about ongoing genocide in Darfur, Cheadle decided to use his celebrity power to change things. He’s written a book, Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond (co-authored by John Prendergast). In this film, Cheadle and his good friend and fellow activist, George Clooney, meet with heads of state, negotiating for them to take action against the genocide.
It’s a noble cause. Nobody can claim that the film is not well-intentioned. Clearly Braun wants to enlist sympathy for the people of Darfur and show that hope is possible. Based on the actions of the people he introduces in Darfur Now, he’s calling for individuals to step up, too, and make a difference.
Intention and Effect
Unfortunately, the people and footage he presents don’t create an impression that the situation is as dire as it is. Yes, he presents the stats that are convincing and we see women weep when they tell of being brutalized and about what happened to their children. But the images we see seem sanitized to the extent that it’s possible for us to be dispassionate about them.
It’s clear that Braun had unusual access to the displaced persons camp where he interviewed Ahmad Mohammed Abakar, who speaks of desperation but seems kind of comfortable in this place of displacement.
The scene where Hejewa Adam is bathing in a brook and we see her scars as she, in voice over with subtitles, describes the death of her son is quite moving, but the impact of her words is undermined by the soundtrack’s reedy new age music and, later, images of her training to fight don’t give us a clue about the real danger she’s in. On screen, Louis Moreno-Ocampo‘s serious efforts appear to be remote and impossibly ineffectual, and Adam Sterling, though thoroughly committed and sincere, doesn’t rally the kind of audience sympathy that this film is reaching for.
Galvanizing Moviegoers to Change Things
Perhaps that’s because when all is said and done we don’t get to know these people very well. We don’t have on person’s story and perspective, so the overall story becomes somewhat abstract.
But, frankly, it’s very difficult to be critical of a film like Darfur Now because the cause is so important and the effort is so sincere. Yet, this film should have been much more effective in galvanizing viewers into becoming activists. At one point, Don Cheadle says that after he’d seen what was happening he couldn’t just go home to his comforts. We really need to see and feel what moved Cheadle to become so committed to the cause. But, we don’t see that.
However, that the film doesn’t seem to rise to its subject matter should not dissuade you from watching it--the information is solid. You will really learn about what’s going on in Darur, and it’s something that you, as a citizen of the world, should know and should be paying attention to. The filmmakers also provide you with information about how you can participate in finding a solution. To help you become involved, the film’s web site suggestions what you can do and gives you links to organizations that need your help.