Darfur Now - which arrives on DVD May 27 - is a film about a very important subject. Too many people still don't understand the scope of what's going on in Darfur. It is estimated that 400,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million displaced from their homes as a result of the unrest there. Women who set foot outdoors fear being raped by the hostile militia known as the Janjaweed, whose job is to crush non-Arab communities. It is truly a genocide taking place in our world, today. People are routinely slaughtered. Thankfully the word is starting to spread.
This documentary looks at six people who are trying urgently to tell us what's happening in Darfur: an American activist who tries to drum up homeland support for a cause many don't realize the severity of; a Sudanese rebel trying to fight for what is right against fierce opposition; an international prosecutor who wants to charge those responsible for fueling the genocide with war crimes; the leader of the World Food Program trying to help feed the displaced; a sheikh devastated by the hatred fueling the genocide; and actor Don Cheadle who, like friends Brad Pitt and George Clooney, has been using his fame as a way to draw attention to Darfur.
Over the course of 98 minutes, we follow these individuals on their respective missions. Sometimes it's distressing, as when the activist realizes a lot of people are too apathetic to even sign a petition urging the American government to do something. Other times, it's encouraging, as when Cheadle discusses trying to manipulate the media and paparazzi into focusing on something that's genuinely important. There's an extended sequence where he and Clooney meet with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss Darfur - an event captured by tons of cameras and microphones. They have figured out how to use our celebrity-obsessed culture in a positive way. (And whoever would have thought the issue would reunite the one-time Batman and Mr. Freeze?)
There's no doubt that it's fascinating to see what caring individuals are doing to make a difference. At the same time, Darfur Now is an example of how mediocre filmmaking can detract from even the most dramatic and compelling of subjects. Although it's a good film and definitely worth seeing, the documentary suffers from bouncing around a little too much. For instance, the most potentially compelling story belongs to the Sudanese rebel, who took arms after seeing the atrocities committed upon her loved ones. When interviewed, she sits calmly with a semi-automatic rifle on her lap. However, she gets considerably less screen time than, say, movie star Cheadle, and many questions we have about her life are left unasked. Similarly, it's difficult to follow the case of the prosecutor trying to try the case in World Court. The film could have done a better job of explaining how, exactly, he was building his case.
I point out this criticism only because other films have depicted the crisis in Darfur with more urgency. (A documentary called The Devil Came on Horseback is an excellent example.) I think it would have been better served to follow 3 or 4 people more closely, rather than skimming the surface with six.
Having said that, I don't want to discourage anyone from seeing Darfur Now. Its strong point is that it reminds us how one person can make a difference, because one person here and one person there adds up to a whole lot of people. And it will take the attention of the world to truly stop the horrific genocide that is taking place. It's important to know this stuff and, even more, to know that we are not powerless to prevent it from continuing. Any minor flaws aside, Darfur Now is a documentary that everyone should take a look at. It offers hope that a sad, tragic, unthinkable situation can be righted, if only everyone would keep their eyes wide open.
( out of four)
Darfur Now hits DVD on May 27 in widescreen format. Because of the importance of the subject matter, Warner Home Video is making the film available for the low price of just $4.99. The disc comes in environmentally friendly packaging that has been made with 100% certified renewable resources. A portion of proceeds from the DVD be donated to the Solar Cooker Project, which helps to protect and empower the women of Darfur.
In addition to the feature film, the disc also comes with an introduction and an audio commentary from director Theodore Braun. There are also about 30 additional scenes that fill in some of the gaps. The most interesting is a meeting between Don Cheadle and Bishop Desmond Tutu
Darfur Now is rated PG for thematic material involving crimes against humanity. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.
Return to The Aisle Seat