Last night, I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of Darfur Now, a new documentary about the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. MTV apparently released advanced copies of the film to student activist groups across the country, and I was able to see the film at our local university under the auspices of our local chapter of STAND.
The film, which is already receiving mixed reviews, follows the struggles of six individuals, including Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame); Luis Moreno-Ocampo, principle prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague; Pablo Recalde, a UN employee in charge of aid distribution by the U.N.'s World Food Program within Darfur; Hejewa Adam, a Darfurian woman who has joined a rebel group after her baby was murdered by the Janjaweed militia; Adam Sterling, a California-based activist; and Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, a Sheik living in a refugee camp and helping to organizing and support the thousands encamped there.
Fast-paced and informative in a general way, the film gives the viewer a relatively surface-level review of the conflict, the genocide, some of the major players, and the geopolitics therein. Many reviews take the film to task for various shortcomings---many criticisms with which I agree---yet I can honestly say that the overall take-away message is one of cautious optimism. The film is obviously meant to leave the viewer feeling uplifted by the successful activism witnessed on the screen, while still allowing that the reality of thousands dead and thousands more displaced is nowhere near resolved. Still, the viewer gets to see Mr. Sterling, flanked by Don Cheadle and George Clooney, celebrate as Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a law enacting California's divestment from any businesses connected with the Sudanese government. The viewer also sees an uplifting montage of Mr. Cheadle's many public speaking engagements and book tour with co-author John Prendergast, with laughter and heartfelt sentiments peppered throughout.
Poignant moments include a band of female rebels, armed with semi-automatic weapons, waiting in the jungle to strike an unsuspecting enemy who roam the region on sprees of destruction. While they wait, the women discuss the U.N., the need for a multinational peace-keeping force, and wonder aloud when "the white people" will arrive to help them. One woman repeats the name of the International Criminal Court's main prosecutor, as if his name were a prayer just waiting to be answered. Meanwhile, the wheels of justice in The Hague turn painfully slowly, and indicted Sudanese war criminals act with impunity, their government refusing to extradite them for trial. The women's words echo in the jungle landscape, the irony of their current isolation painful to witness.
My niece, a well-known college-age Darfur activist, says that Darfur Now is a "activist burnout prevention film" which she and her hard-working colleagues watch periodically for a shot in the arm and a moral/emotional boost. If the daring viewer/activist would like a more realistic and less optimistic view of the Darfur conflict and genocide, The Devil Came on Horseback comes highly recommended. As my niece warned me, Darfur Now leaves you feeling like you can personally make a difference, while The Devil Came on Horseback may leave one utterly demoralized and depressed. With complicated and tragic situations like Darfur, it's apparent that we need both influences on the citizenry's table. One film may knock you to the ground with its stark realism, while the other lifts you back on your feet again with more gentle threads of hope. See them both, and then take action.