Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sand and Sorrow: A New Documentary about Darfur

I always get a little suspicious of the "cause of the moment" types of movements.  So often, such trendy movements are fraught with misinformation, emotionalism, and empty actions.  Some of that may be true of concern over Darfur, but that does change the fact that what has gone on in Darfur over the last several years is shameful.

Sand and Sorrow describes the historical developments in Sudan that led to the genocide and displacement of people living in the Darfur region of that country.  It then discusses the resistance of other nations, especially the U.S., to get involved.  Ultimately, in a congratulatory tone, it demonstrates the difference that a grass roots movement in the U.S. has made, pressuring the U.S. government to get involved in brokering a peace deal.

I read a book a while back called The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur.  The author is an American soldier who joins a private contractor providing consultation for the African Union.  The film does not mention his book, but depicts the frustration he felt.  These soldiers from other countries were sent to observe and report what's going on in Sudan, but were forbidden to bear arms against the janjaweed, the horse riding militias, endorsed and supported by the Sudanese government.  The janjaweed, key perpetrators of the violence, sweep into villages, burning, looting, raping, and murdering, terrorizing the villagers and driving them from their homes.  The military observers, forbidden to intervene, must sit and watch while the janjaweed do their worst.

Although the Sudanese government long denied their involvement, after enough eye-witness reports from victims and non-Sudanese alike, the truth could no longer be covered up.  Some of the most powerful witnesses, tragically, are children, who, provided paper and crayons, depict some of the violence they have seen.

One of the key figures in the documentary, and in the Save Darfur movement, is Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who had recently published a book about the United States' inaction in the face of genocides throughout the 20th century.  Faced with what she heard about what was going on in Darfur, she was compelled to act.  Another vocal instigator was Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times columnist who championed the people of Darfur, bringing their plight to the attention of the American people and government.

Of course the documentary had to takes some jabs at the Bush administration, and depicts Obama as senator taking a supportive role in the beginning of the Save Darfur campaign.  I am confident, however, that American inaction is not a symptom of hard-hearted Republicans, but of the ineptitude of government no matter the party.  There's also the reality of politics: after 9/11, the Sudanese government enthusiastically aided the U.S. in the War on Terror, so the U.S. government was reluctant to come down too hard on their domestic policies, no matter how horrible.

Politics aside, the Save Darfur movement seems to have drawn people together from a wide swath of the public, including Christians, Jews, and secular groups, political conservatives and liberals alike.  Sand and Sorrow is a well-made, disturbing look at this ongoing conflict in a distant corner of the world.

Bottom line, 4 stars.

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