Unlike when the genocide began over a decade ago in Rwanda -- when the Western world couldn't be bothered to lift its head from its own navel and figure out what to do -- the increasingly desperate condition in the Darfur region of Sudan has attracted enormous amounts of attention from around the world, with activists clamoring for their governments to do more to stop the ongoing disaster. Writer/director Theodore Braun
's Darfur Now serves initially as a decent introduction to the efforts of this diverse group of dedicated do-gooders, presenting portraits of six people from completely different walks of life into a generalized mini-lecture on the state of the Darfur conflict. But although it begins with the most honorable intentions, the film ultimately fails to serve as the rousing call to action it desires to be, swaddled as it is in muddle-headed hero-worship and a soft-focus PSA style.
The smartest move on Braun's part was the selection of the people he structures his film around. Ahmed Mohammed Abakar
is a Darfurian farmer forced by the fighting into a refugee camp where he serves as a de facto leader in exile. The Ecuadorian Pablo Recalde
works with the World Food Program, organizing the seemingly impossible task of keeping the thousands of Darfurian refugees from starving to death in a harsh landscape swept by dry winds and the marauding government-backed Arab tribesman known as the janjaweed (literally, devils on horseback) who helped drive them there in the first place. Adam Sterling
is a young UCLA student and waiter fighting with admirable determination and stubbornness to get a bill signed that would divest state of California funds from the Sudanese government, as a way of not indirectly funding genocide. Producer Don Cheadle
, who co-wrote a book on the crisis called Not on Our Watch, is profiled as well for his efforts, along with a briefly appearing George Clooney
, to increase awareness and to pressure governments which do a lot of business in Sudan, like China and Egypt, to divest. Article continues below
The most intriguing people, however, are a female rebel and an Argentine prosecutor, who give this rather limply-compiled film a jolt of bracing conviction. Hejewa Adam
is one of Darfur's Fur people, a mother forced out of her village when it was assaulted by the janjaweed and government soldiers, losing her three-month-old son in the process. Now she waits in the hills with one of many rebel bands, an AK-47 clutched tightly in her hands, and speaking, like the other rebels, longingly of the day when the outside world will stop what is happening: "We must be patient and wait for the white people to come." It was a daring choice on Braun's part to place a rebel like Adam among its list of heroes, not pretending as so many have claimed (often Arab apologists desperate to blame the genocide on anybody else) that the fighting in Darfur is simply a mess without any right or wrong side. One of the people Adam is waiting for is Luis Moreno-Ocampo
, the Argentinian prosecutor for the International Criminal Court at The Hague, an intensely likable fellow with smiling eyes and an intense demeanor whose investigations into the crimes against humanity committed in Darfur have so far been some of the only concrete action taken to end the conflict. At the film's end, he waits poignantly in the Hague courtroom where he hopes to put the butchers on trial.
For all the good intentions on show here, Darfur Now is not much of a film. If one comes to it knowing nothing about the situation, then of course any information will be helpful. But the filmmakers are so gaga over celebrity activist Cheadle and seemingly average American Sterling that the people on the ground in Darfur seem to get slighted in comparison. Its an understandable choice, as a good part of the reason the film exists is to excite a Western audience into action, thusly providing them with a good role model (Sterling) and the chance to see a celebrities in action (Cheadle, Clooney). But placed against something like Anni Sundberg and Ricki Stern's engrossing and dire The Devil Came on Horseback, which was in theaters for about five minutes earlier this year, Darfur Now seems more fundraising video than documentary film.
All that being said, if after all this Darfur Now gets just one person involved in the effort who then helps save a life, all complaints about its lack of artistry will be rendered instantly null and void.