"Inspiring" is a word often used to describe human-rights-oriented documentaries, but Theodore Braun's film about efforts to ease the ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region really earns that epithet. It not only describes the current humanitarian disaster, but profiles the ways in which six very different people from far-flung areas of the globe have taken action.
Braun traveled throughout the Darfur between January and May 2007, during which time an estimated 200,000-plus African men, women and children were killed and some 2.5 million others were displaced by armed, mounted and, it's widely alleged, government-backed Arab gangs known as the Janjaweed, who had spent the preceding four years terrorizing African villages in an effort to shift the demographic of the region. Two of Braun's subjects are native to the region: young mother Hejewa Adam, whose three-month-old son was murdered by the Janjaweed, and farmer Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, who was forced from his village by the militias and now lives in the sprawling Hamadea refugee camp. Hejewa fought back by joining one of the armed rebel groups that attempt to keep the Janjaweed government troops at bay. Sheik Ahmed, meanwhile, became a community leader in the camp, organizing Hamadea's 47,000 residents, providing basic services while attempting to fight corruption within the camp and attacks from outside. Two other subjects hail from South America: Ecuadorian-born Pablo Recalde leads a World Food Program team that works to feed some three million people by moving food convoys to some of the region's most dangerous areas, often under fire from militias attempting to speed the famine crisis. In The Hague, the International Criminal Court's Argentinean chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, attempts to bring international law to bear on the crimes allegedly committed by the Sudanese government by assembling evidence that would implicate high-ranking officials. But the film's center is two men from the U.S., Angelinos who have made Darfur their top priorities. Actor Don Cheadle, who became an activist after his role in HOTEL RWANDA opened his eyes to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, uses his star power — and his close friendship with superstar George Clooney — to shine a spotlight on Darfur. Cheadle travels the world promoting his book Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond and meets with world leaders in Egypt and China to further the cause. But the film's real star is 24-year-old UCLA student Adam Sterling, who, like Cheadle, had his consciousness raised by learning about Rwanda's recent past, and dedicated himself to pushing a bill through the California state assembly that would withdraw pension funds from oil companies that don't divest their Sudanese holdings. The grandson of a German Jew who escaped the Nazi Holocaust, Sterling funds his efforts by working as a waiter, and is living proof that a single person, no matter how far removed he or she may seem from the situation, can make a difference.
Braun intercuts footage of all six subjects and even manages to bring events to a suspenseful climax: Recalde waits to hear if a food convoy bound for the drought-stricken north will reach its destination; Moreno-Ocampo prepares to bring his case before the ICC; and Cheadle, Clooney and Sterling join forces for a dramatic and moving conclusion in which Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a surprising cameo. More than any previous film on the subject, Braun's documentary offers an answer to a common question, perfectly phrased and answered by Cheadle himself: "What can I do? More than nothing. A lot more than nothing." leave a comment --Ken Fox