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Film: Review: Darfur Now

Documentary serves as a rallying cry to stop genocide in Sudan

By Steven Rosen · December 5th, 2007 · Movies
  Darfur Now urges viewers to help those in peril in Sudan.
Warner Independent

Darfur Now urges viewers to help those in peril in Sudan.

The crisis in the parched, drought-prone Darfur region of Sudan -- where Arab militias known as Janjaweed ("devils on horseback") have been massacring and displacing African civilians in order to put down a rebellion -- has taxed world leaders trying to stop it.

The militias have the support of the Sudanese government, which in turn has some powerful friends protecting it from world action like neighbor Egypt and China, which imports 60 percent of Sudanese oil.

So far the United Nations estimates the Janjaweed have killed 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million. The United States has labeled this genocide. The International Criminal Court has charged one Sudanese official and one Janjaweed leader with war crimes, but Sudan hasn't turned them over for trial. And still it goes on.

In September, Human Rights Watch reported that the situation has only gotten worse and more chaotic with time. "Darfur has evolved from an armed conflict between rebels and the government into a violent scramble for power and resources involving government forces, Janjaweed militia, rebels and former rebels and bandits," it says. "But these complexities should not deflect attention from Khartoum's responsibility for indiscriminate aerial and ground attacks, complicity in Janjaweed attacks against civilians, failure to hold rights abusers accountable and its unwillingness to establish a policing force that can protect civilians."

But against such frustrating facts, there has been some positive news. Aware and ashamed of the inability of Western nations and the U.N.

to stop the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s, a consortium of "Not On Our Watch" activists has formed to prevent a devastating repetition in Darfur.

The movement has broad-based political and religious support in the U.S., a singular achievement given the deep divisions in this country over Iraq, and has especially drawn interest from college and high school students. It's an encouraging phenomenon -- especially if it ultimately helps save Darfur.

Darfur Now, a documentary by Ted Braun that was co-produced by actor/human-rights activist Don Cheadle, is an attempt to make that effort work. It serves as a recruitment tool for those not yet involved as well as a rallying cry for those already committed.

Such intentions are laudable. One only wishes it worked better as a documentary. Braun uses so much crosscutting between the stories of the six people he has chosen to spotlight that it's rare for any to get enough time or traction to have impact. Too often we're left with talking heads in exotic locales. As a result, the film is dramatically slack, even at 99 minutes. And its explanation of why all this has happened in Darfur is too cursory.

One of those six is Cheadle himself, who tells how working on Hotel Rwanda inspired him to become an activist for Darfur. This film briefly shows him going with George Clooney to China and Egypt to persuade those governments to stop supporting Sudan. It's a daring, courageous trip; certainly one of the more interesting efforts by Hollywood stars to affect change. Cheadle's own footage of that is interesting, both for the politics and the human dimension -- he irons his clothes as Clooney practices a speech. But there isn't enough about this trip.

Another is Hejewa Adam, who joined the Darfur rebel movement after Janjaweed attacked her village and killed her baby. She makes an eloquent, defiant spokeswoman for the resistance, but one doubts that her rebel group -- including children -- could ever win a war against Sudan. As a result, her declarations of taking the war to Khartoum ring hollow.

Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, another of the six, is a local leader in a Darfur refugee camp and probably gets the least amount of time.

Another subject is Pablo Recalde, a brave soul trying to get the World Food Program's truck convoys through Janjaweed ambushes to reach refugee settlements in Darfur. There is a sense of urgency to his work, as well as danger. At one point, he learns by radio that a truck has been hijacked.

The story that should have been most interesting -- the work of International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his staff as they prepare war-crime indictments -- suffers from the crosscutting approach. An Argentine, he first prosecuted that country's junta leaders for murdering dissidents, and he passionately believes in the rule of law. In Darfur Now, we miss the drama of his painstaking investigation.

The story that ultimately stays with the viewer longest -- because it is the most positive, upbeat one -- is that of Adam Sterling, a UCLA student who spearheaded a grass-roots effort to get the state government to divest itself of Sudan investments.

We watch as he lobbies legislators and power brokers to support his efforts. And when the law passes and Cheadle and Clooney show up to celebrate with Sterling as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs it, Darfur Now crackles with star power.

You think, "If Adam Sterling can do that, what can I do?"

Good question. You might check out savedarfur.org or notonourwatchproject.org for ideas. Grade: B-



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