Turning talk of Sudan to action

By Steven Snyder

While the American government has increasingly turned a blind eye to the atrocities occurring in Sudan — the Bush administration debating for years whether to even term the country’s mass killings “genocide,” much less get involved with the conflict — American movie theaters have, in recent years, taken a far more active role in exposing the subject to increasingly appalled and outraged audiences.

Most recently, “The Devil Came on Horseback” shed light on just how quickly and fiercely people’s lives are being destroyed in this eastern corner of Africa. And this weekend, “Darfur Now” picks up the baton, hoping to guide the issue even further into the realm of public debate — this time with the help of a few celebrities.

During recent New York press tours, it’s been Don Cheadle that publicists have been hyping to local writers. And as seen on screen here, he’s joined by the likes of George Clooney — another popular face who could potentially draw in the kinds of crowds who, to this point, might have stayed away from an African documentary on the Sudanese genocide, underway since 2003.

Director Ted Braun makes this celebrity activism one of “Darfur Now’s” central storylines. He watches Cheadle and Clooney work the American media circuit, using today’s paparazzi culture as a means of getting the subject of Sudan onto television shows and magazine pages — into outlets that would never otherwise conceive of mentioning the crisis. Turning away from American celebrities, Braun then turns to such prominent international legal figures as Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who successfully prosecuted members of the junta in Argentina.

Bringing to life six distinct stories of individuals fighting to raise awareness and stop the murder, Braun also looks to Pablo Recalde, the man who attempts to supply the drought-stricken nation with badly needed emergency food supplies. Setting his sights on the war-ravaged region of West Darfur, his trucks are forced to navigate a deadly maelstrom of bullets and rebels to get the food to the people who need it. Yet they continue to make the dangerous journey, even under fire.

If these men are doing things on a macro scale, Braun offsets their stories with micro accomplishments. Hejewa Adam is a Sudanese rebel whose baby was killed in the nation’s violence. She has taken to fighting back against the country’s oppressors, the northern Arab tribes called the Janjaweed, supported by the government in Khartoum. Even in Santa Monica, California, Braun finds a man named Adam Sterlins, who used leaflets to raise awareness of the issue — enough awareness that he successfully campaigned the state legislature to abandon all Sudanese investments. One man, a few sheets of paper and a few phone calls, and Sterlins was able to convince one of the world’s largest economies to abandon the current Sudanese government.

So while the numbers of the current crisis in Darfur are staggering — 200,000 have been killed and almost 3 million displaced over the past four years — Braun’s film is one of the first to focus on turning the corner, a film less designed to elicit tears than to motivate an audience into discernable action. Look at what these men and women have done, “Darfur Now” seems to be challenging, then imagine what you could do, too.

While some may see this as a naïve approach to the topic, glossing over the atrocities in a bid to craft a feel-good affair, there’s something to be said for giving people a healthy dose of motivation amid our national silence on the subject. While Europe, particularly Britain, has launched aggressive campaigns to combat the violence, America has been relatively absent from the discussion. But thanks to movies like “Darfur Now,” and the slowly building roster of individuals doing whatever they can to make a difference, eventually it won’t require the President, no matter how apathetic, to engage a national dialogue.