Darfur Now doesn#039;t stress the Now quite enough

by Beacon Staff • December 5, 2007

However, this is just about the only evidence of the intense violence in the area that viewers will see in the PG-rated documentary Darfur Now.,A helicopter flies over a razed village, burnt thatch huts and scattered belongings the only remnants of the occupants that used to live there before yet another raid-and massacre-in the war-torn region of western Sudan known as Darfur.

However, this is just about the only evidence of the intense violence in the area that viewers will see in the PG-rated documentary Darfur Now.

For a report on a situation so dire and pressing, Darfur Now simply doesn't pack enough of a punch. Especially when its primary goal is, as can be gleaned from the title, to be a call to action for the injustice being committed in the region. Darfur Now isn't a poorly crafted film by any means-it's competent as a documentary about a continuing world crisis. But as an urgent message meant to provoke and inspire, it doesn't galvanize as it should.

Part of the fault is due to the softening of the content-the filmmakers chose to keep the documentary to a PG rating. It would be fine to make the film accessible for everyone in the family-if the target audience was those too young to see PG-13 or R-rated movies. But a documentary like Darfur Now doesn't need to cater to such young audiences and sacrifice the value of the more gruesome images of the Darfur massacres. Though the topic is still by no means comfortable or easy to deal with in PG form, it fails to hammer home the true atrocity of the crimes against humanity being committed-something that might have been better achieved with a more severe portrayal of the crisis.

The movie follows six individuals who discuss the need to get involved in Darfur. It progresses in traditional documentary style, with wide scene shots punctuated by bursts of PowerPoint-like facts to bring the audience up to date. These bits of information, which are sometimes hard to read, are what give the documentary its matter-of-fact side, though the stronger and more convincing portions are the emotional, individual interviews. Though each subject is very different, they all have the same message: Darfur needs your help.

The strongest profiles are those that follow the actual Africans: a Darfurian woman who joins rebel forces after her baby son was killed and a community leader in a West African Darfur refugee camp. Also genuine and convincing is the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, an Argentinean man determined to bring justice to the people of Darfur. He is the only real optimist in the entire film, believing that "people who believe they have the power will lose the power."

Having witnessed genocide firsthand in Argentina and seen the officials responsible for it brought to justice, he is confident that the system can and will work in Darfur, despite the Sudanese government's stringent limitations on those trying to document the crime, preventing the collection of evidence. One wonders if the same restrictions also prevented the filmmakers from obtaining the footage they would have ideally included in this call to action.

The film's only substantial celebrity figure is Don Cheadle, as one of the storylines follows his work as an activist for Darfur. Cheadle's presence in the film inevitably evokes comparisons to his 2004 drama, Hotel Rwanda-especially since both movies address the subject of African genocides that the world failed to act on quickly. However, Darfur Now does not elicit the pathos that Hotel Rwanda did, and again, this is partly the fault of the rating.

Hotel Rwanda did not pull many punches and went for a PG-13 rating, and, though a decade too late, still could have been effective because of the excellent acting and imagery that evoked the terror of the massacres. By contrast, Darfur Now feels more impersonal, which is strange considering how focused its interviews are, presenting the horrors verbatim. People talk about what happened, but the audience never sees it.

Darfur Now often feels rushed, like it was put together in a hurry to get the message out as quickly as possible. The camera shots are often blurry and dizzying, perhaps to create a feeling of urgency and intensity, but even this fails. Interspersing interviews, images and facts, Darfur Now is definitely a documentary, but at some points it feels like it is also trying to be an action film, with choppy back-and-forth between individual storylines, and intense music and camera styles that cheapen the tragedy of the conflict.

The images in the movie are powerful and the film could have used more of them. Although the documentary tries to keep itself grounded in individual stories, occasionally the camera focuses on something other than the person speaking or simultaneously captures a scene.

The image of a heart scrawled on a wall behind a rebel woman with text in it reading "I will die for Darfur," and pictures of malnourished children and razed villages both make the conflict more real than any amount of words can. The stark contrast between the cities of the United States and those of Darfur is startling enough in itself. However, when documenting genocide, the human loss needs to be captured in the images, not just in the facts, to have a powerful emotional impact on the audience.

The film also notes the absurdity of the situation-the audience at the screening snickered every time the Sudanese ambassador dropped lines like, "The situation in Darfur is very much over-dramatized." According to Darfur Now, the United Nations reported 200,000 fatalities and 2.5 million displaced individuals. This is a very dramatic situation, but beyond the facts the documentary isn't urgent enough.

Darfur Now is not the powerfully moving film that the filmmakers intended it to be, but, for those ignorant of the situation in Darfur, it is a documentary that gives some scope of the tragedy. It is a quick and easy way to inform the viewer about an ongoing world crisis-but a Wikipedia page could tell you that.