Centuries of history set the stage for the ongoing contact in Darfur, an African region joined to Sudan whose tension with the Sudanese government erupted in 2003. In an effort to maintain control of the region, the government unofficially employed Janjaweed militias from northern Darfur, who, thanks to pre-existing ethnic hostilities, were all too ready to be used as indiscriminate killing machines. The ensuing violence saw the Janjaweed target civilians and rebels alike, killing many, displacing 2.5 million survivors, and creating a nearly unfathomable humanitarian crisis in a part of the world unfamiliar to many.
Darfur Now seeks to change that, and while any effort in that direction is certainly laudable, the Ted Braun-directed film plays more like a 90-minute telethon than a theatrical film. The biggest problem is right there in the title: Focusing on the current efforts of six individuals—from Hejewa Adam, a displaced-woman-turned-rebel, to actor and activist Don Cheadle—it offers little context in favor of what can be done now. That approach is effective at mobilizing audiences to support charitable causes, but it doesn't always translate into compelling viewing. (Feel free to stop reading this now and check out savedarfur.org, darfurgenocide.org, or helpdarfurnow.org. Give generously.)
The film is undeniably on the side of the angels, but any of its subjects' stories might have worked better if told in greater depth. International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, his sense of justice sharpened by events witnessed in his own Argentina, remains almost unfailingly upbeat even as he clarifies how difficult it will be to arrest even one of the Sudanese officials responsible. Cheadle seems baffled that it takes a celebrity voice to draw attention to the crisis. But ultimately, it feels a little wrong for either to take the focus off the events in Darfur itself, and the film is likely to leave viewers only slightly more enlightened about those events than before. Braun uses Adam to bookend the film, opening with her story of losing her child in a Janjaweed raid. It's a heartbreaking tale, a sliver of a tragic history still unfolding, but one that Braun largely leaves others to document.