by John Barry
For all its flaws, director Ted Braun's Darfur Now gets the word out. Darfur, in western Sudan, is a region brimming with weapons, flooded with oil, and starved for food. At the moment, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been slaughtered, raped and terrorized by government-funded Janjaweed militias. The United States and the United Nations should be going in there to protect these people, and they're doing very little. And if there isn't much of a narrative arc there, it's not Ted Braun's fault.
There are grittier, bloodier and more informative documentaries about Darfur. Again, that may be to Braun's credit. Although Darfur Now paints a grim picture, it's a documentary about Darfur the whole family can watch without terrorizing the kids. It may even help endow them with a sense of political responsibility.
To do this, Braun weaves together the stories of six figures participating in the struggle. Pablo Recalde, leader of the World Food Program, sends wary truck drivers across the desert loaded with food supplies. Adam Sterling is a 24-year-old UCLA graduate who initiates a statewide campaign to divest from Sudan. Luis Monero-Ocampo is a gray-bearded prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, who hopes to place the Sudanese war criminals on the hot seat. Sheik Ahmen Akbar is a leader in a community of Darfur refugees. Hejewa Adam is a Sudanese mother who's taken up the life of an insurgent after seeing her family slaughtered by the government-paid Janjaweed. And then there are Don Cheadle and George Clooney, two American guys who are doing their bit to raise awareness about Sudan in the United States.
And, despite the desperate situation, Braun finds a silver lining. As the world of Sudan unravels, Sterling pounds the pavement and knocks on doors, shoring up support in the California Legislature to come up with the divestment bill. If he's the prototype for a new generation of activists — unassuming, non-ideological, and devoted to his cause — that's good news.
And pointing out the imperfections in a documentary that's a call to action against impending genocide could be missing the point, but in his effort to juggle six storylines, Braun has only enough time to scratch the surface. He lets us know that there are large international oil interests who are funding the Sudanese government's weapons programs, but doesn't elaborate what the relationship is with American interests. He allows two Republican senators — Sens. John McCain and Sam Brownback — to offer precooked platitudes about Darfur. Little is said, however, about the collaborative role the Sudanese government plays in U.S. counterterrorist policies.
You get the impression, in the end, that there are cans of worms that Braun just doesn't want to open up, just to keep the message simple. But it's a message that needs to get out: Sending American or U.N. troops over to Darfur to protect the victims of genocide would do more for our standing in the world than sending 130,000 troops to Iraq has. Hopefully, with Don Cheadle's help, Braun will put that issue back on the American radar.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.