In Darfur Now, an amateur volunteer leader, a female rebel fighter, a community leader, an international humanitarian, a Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and actor Don Cheadle find their paths crossed as they fight to save Darfur, a region of the Sudan. The documentary, a glossy, seemingly high budget piece of work from writer/director Ted Braun, Darfur Now examines the crisis - or at least some people involved in combating it.
Darfur Now is an effective tool for relaying the problems in the Sudan to the American people, as it avoids the constant, in-your-face misery kind of approach that documentaries often take and that American audiences easily ignore. After all, the movie prominently features Don Cheadle and also has appearances from such people as George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Hilary Clinton. Furthermore, the documentary even follows a "Law and Order"-style crime model, as the plot revolves around an investigation by the Hague's ICC and a volunteer's attempt to change legislation in the United States to restrict funding to the oppressive Sudanese government.
The movie gets its point across, but one can't help but feel that Darfur Now is made by Americans for Americans to make us, and those involved with the film, to feel better. The presence of big names is good and should be a driving force to get more people to watch the film - and thus come to learn about Darfur - but when you have scenes where Cheadle, Clooney and others are talking about strategies in their hotel room, or the volunteer Adam Sterling trying to deal with politics, unions and mobilization way beyond his understanding, you have to question whether this movie is less about convincing the world that genocide is happening in Darfur and more about showing how a couple people are "giving it their all" to help. I do not mean to detract from the work these people are doing for Darfur, but Darfur Now comes off as insincere.
I'd rather see a movie that wholeheartedly focuses on the people and problems of Darfur, rather than one that devotes half its running time to the campaigns of individuals in the United States. Sterling's passion is interesting, as is Cheadle's and Clooney's and even Luis Moreno-Ocampo's, the ICC prosecutor, but their stories seem more like sidebar items rather than the underlying issue. Do we need to see how Sterling mobilized his efforts to change legislation in California, or how Cheadle and Clooney approached the Chinese government, or how Moreno-Ocampo came to his conclusions about Sudan? With exception to the latter, which I think is important to establish that an international court has in fact declared that there are bad things happening in Darfur, the answer is no. Yet Braun seems to give more weight to these than the stories that are actually happening within Darfur itself. Should a movie about Darfur star only two Darfurian people?
Darfur Now has its moments and does relay something about the atrocities happening in Sudan, but it comes off as an overly stylized and insincere documentary with its intent in all the wrong places. I'm sure Braun did not intend for his movie to be acknowledged in this way, but this is a perfect example of American arrogance in foreign affairs. We've done our part - see - and now the rest of the world is a better place. Right? Right?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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