Darfur Now — A Story of Hope
An Interview with Director Ted Braun, Producer Cathy Schulman
and Activist Adam Sterling

By Michele Geracoulis
 
 



The present conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan is considered to be the first genocide of the 21st century. Yet, the Sudanese government seems oblivious and the United Nations hesitates to use the label “genocide.” In an unparalleled moment in history, the American government has officially termed the continuing conflict in Darfur as genocide. Despite the fact this crisis rages on, the response from the international community remains painfully slow. Courageously, six individuals have chosen to put themselves on the line in an effort to end this tragedy.

Frustrated by the world’s indifference, this film was produced to make a difference. Darfur Now is a documentary that takes the remote, little-heeded Darfurian conflict and makes it suddenly impossible to ignore. We are brought into the lives of six unique individuals who show us their struggles and their successes. We see what happens when a brave few answer the question, “What can I do?” 

The six people whom the film is built around are Hejewa Adam, a young Darfurian refugee whose baby was killed by the insurgent militia; Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, a displaced Darfurian Sheikh and acting leader in the Hamadea refugee camp; Don Cheadle, actor, activist and the author of “Not on Our Watch;” Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague; Pablo Recalde, a lifelong relief worker and leader of the World Food Program in West Darfur, and Adam Sterling, 24-year old activist and Executive Director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force in Washington, DC.

Just weeks before the release of this poignant documentary, we had the opportunity to sit down with director Ted Braun, producer Cathy Schulman, and featured activist, Adam Sterling.

Q. Would you speak on the agenda of the film?

A. Ted: First is to document the success of the characters {featured in the film}. Second is to bring an end to the crisis and the suffering of billions in Darfur. We screened at the UN. {Presumably as a result}, justice has been put on the agenda of the Security Council in the Darfur case. We screened before Congress in October, 2007.

Q. The UN does not recognize the crisis in Darfur as “genocide.” Has that position changed since viewing the film?

A. Ted: I don’t believe the UN has changed its position since seeing this film.

Q. In the film we get the impression that the Sudanese government denies, or at least downplays, real events on the ground in Darfur. Have they seen this film, and if so, what has been the reaction? Has the official position of Sudan changed?

A. Ted: I was in touch with the Sudanese ambassador in New York earlier this week. We have been trying to arrange for them to see the film. We are very curious to hear their reaction, and hope they will engage the film in a constructive way. As far as the position of the Sudanese government, views expressed in the film by the Ambassador to the UN, His Excellency Abldalmahmood Abdalhaleen Mohamad, are very accurate depictures of their understanding of what is going on there.

However, it is important to recognize that the government of Sudan is not monolithic. It is a government like any government with different points of view, different visions of its country, and different ways of engaging the outside world. We have been fortunate to work

with segments of the government that are looking for a peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict and that want Sudan to be a functioning, productive member of the family of nations.  And I think it is important for the world to remember that as they discuss this issue, many are attempting to engage the Sudanese in productive ways to resolve the Darfur conflict.

Q. How is the progress of the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor Luis MorenoOcampo going? 
A. Ted: Arrest warrants remain outstanding; the ICC is still working through the community to press the Sudan government to arrest Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb. The ICC is investigating additional, more recent crimes with the intention of bringing more cases to trial.

Q. How did you gain access to ICC Prosecutor MorenoOcampo?

A. Ted: He is a remarkable visionary, a dynamic man, and a great presence in the film. It was a cold call. I picked up the phone and called him one day. We, the producers and I, had identified him fairly early on as a potential subject in the film and kept trying to find him through various legal channels we had access to, someone who could offer us an introduction. But the clock was ticking, so finally I said, “Look, I am going to pick up the phone and call the guy.” And they answered the phone at the ICC. They speak English even though it is Holland, and they speak it better than we do!

They gave me to someone in communication with Ocampo, and asked me to send a copy of the proposal. They responded immediately and said Ocampo would be interested in meeting with me. I happened to be going to The Hague, well, very close by, and that was on May 30th of last year. He gave me an hour of his time at the end of the day, which stretched into two hours. He invited me back the next day for a press conference and said he wanted to be in the film.

There were some obvious concerns. He had initially said the time was not right, that it was too early in the life of the court. The ICC is only three years old. Well, now four, but only three when we started. The Darfur case in particular was too nascent to warrant the kind of attention this film would give.But then we got to talking about moral responsibility and its relationship to distance. I told him, “Mr. Prosecutor, cinema can shrink space and time. It can bring the world close to the suffering of these people and make them aware of the work of the court.”  I think he responded to that idea. We were filming him briefing the UN Security Council a week and a half later.

We had to work closely and respectfully with him because his investigation needed to be confidential and could not be compromised. But we were able to figure out a method of working together that allowed the investigation to proceed confidentially and unimpeded, and allowed us to bring the story of the court’s work to the world. He allowed us to see him and what I think is the birth of a worldchanging institution. And everything we had access to is completely open and public information. There is nothing in this film that is not part of the public record.

Q. Another player in this situation is China, but the film only touches on that. With the Olympics on the horizon, will China’s relationship to Sudan come more to the fore? How does the Sudan Divestment Task Force plan to help people understand China’s role in this crisis?

A. Adam: Sure, it is definitely a central issue. More than 50% of Sudanese oil goes to China. China National Petroleum Company is Sudan’s largest oil partner and the major target of the Divestment campaign. There is a burgeoning Olympics campaign designed to link China’s role in Darfur to the Olympics, and I think those two things have been successful in pushing China further than they have ever been pushed. Historically, China is notorious for separating business and politics. Their involvement with Sudan is definitely one of business.


We have seen progress. This year China appointed a special envoy specifically for Darfur. They actually voted for the most recent UN Security Council Resolution 1769, which authorizes the international peacekeeping force in Darfur. It still hasn’t actually been deployed and that is another issue. But just the fact that we have seen China move, largely in part to the Divestment campaign and this Olympics campaign, I think gives hope that they will move even further. And it is just more reason, particularly as this film comes out, to keep building pressure {on China}.

Q. Is it correct to assume that lives are still in danger and that people continue to pour into the refugee camps on a daily basis?

A. Ted: Yes, people continue to arrive at these camps — camps like Hamadea — everyday. The security situation in those camps in the last months, and weeks in particular, has worsened. You may know there was an attack at a camp in South Darfur, which was not featured in this film. We have heard reports recently that the Hamadea camp has actually been attacked. We are trying to find out more information about this.

We have contacted the International Rescue Committee who is responsible for managing that camp, and I had a report that there were two casualties. We are obviously concerned for the safety of the people who were in the film and for the many people who continue to come into the camps from areas that are not safe. Yes, the situation in the region remains very unstable.

Q. Aside from increasing personal awareness, what can individuals do? 

 A. Cathy: First and foremost, obviously, we are hoping that people will come out and see the film. The most important thing in a humanitarian crisis such as this is to gather voices. Once you gather voices, as a group of voices, you can be really loud and touch those people who can make a difference. Specifically, in the end call of the film we list two websites linked to the film, its subject and all their agendas, which will help guide you into doing all that good work.

 www.participate.net/darfurnow and www.myspace.com/darfurnow

Ted: The film brings to light the efforts of six different people, and they are all working in different ways. Inasmuch as we were conceiving this film as a stimulus to action, we recognize that people will respond differently and want to act in different ways after seeing the film. So, we don’t lay out a single prescription. If you visit the websites, if you are moved by the film, you will find different ways to act. As I am sure Adam has experienced and will share with you, he has been led to believe ‘different strokes for different folks.’ Different interests for different folks.

People who are curious about divestment will have very clear avenues to act. People who are curious about international justice will have very clear avenues to act. People who want to help the people in the camps and work on aid and relief for the displaced of Darfur will have avenues to act. People who are curious about getting food to people who need it, all those areas of action will be laid out in those websites.

Adam: For anyone wanting to take action immediately, we were able to set up a free hotline. It is (800) GENOCIDE. Dial it from anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, enter in your zip code and you are provided with talking points, then you are automatically connected to your elected officials. They will tell you what to say. You can say more. It is really a phenomenal tool. 

Q. Why use celebrities in this film?

A. Cathy: One thing we have learned making this film with celebrities who were willing to donate their time was that it is an extraordinary gift. There is a blowback happening with celebrity activism. “Why are these guys out in front of the issue?” But I ask the question, “ Where is everybody else? Where are the politicians?” I think there is a unique opportunity for celebrities who always have a microphone in their face, to open their mouths and say “Hey, come and listen.” 

In the case of Don Cheadle and George Clooney, one thing that was completely clear is that it is not their job to fix the crisis. All they can do is gather interest. The question is, can they engage people who will actually make the difference? As we release the film, we certainly hope audiences will come out to see the people {celebrities} who are doing important things in their personal lives.

We were all fortunate enough to engage Bono to do the end credit song. This was a huge coup for us and something we are really proud of. He re-recorded “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” which is Stevie Wonder’s song. We are so proud to have some of Hollywood’s best talent involved in this film, and I encourage Hollywood to do more.

Ted: I would like to add in the case of the four celebrities most prominently featured in the film: Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Bono, and Stevie Wonder. These are all people with a long track record of social activism. These are not people who are hopping out on the red carpet to have their pictures taken. They are proven people of conscience, and I think the world will recognize that.

The other point that I think worth making is that the people of Darfur — for whom this film was made and whom we want to serve — I don’t think have any questions about whether they would have Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Stevie Wonder, or Bono helping out. There is no cynicism there. There is only gratitude and I hope the rest of the world takes a similar stance.

Adam: I would add that Don and I met about a year before when he came to a UCLA rally. There were literally about six of us there — two being Don and me. And so as one of those two people who have since dedicated their lives to getting the word out about Darfur, it is really an honor to be a part of this movie. Don has been to the region many times and there is no one I would rather be in the trenches with.

Q. As this story does not end with the film, would you revisit this project?

A. Ted: I personally just approved the release prints for the film last Friday. You know with those dragsters when you get to the end of the race, the shoot pops open? Well, the shoot still hasn’t popped open yet! I am still sort of barreling along. I really haven’t had a chance to think about what the next film will be. Cathy and I have had an enormously satisfying professional collaboration. We are looking at different ways to work together. There was a moment, despite all the hard work and exhaustion when I was looking at these six characters, thinking, “Gee, I really would like to see these guys in a film again.”  They are remarkable, interesting people.

Cathy: No! Making a documentary with six characters living on different continents and doing contemporary subject  matter in an open war zone, while our country is in an embargo with Sudan, was quite a challenge. But an amazing learning experience. If we were to do it again, we would have to figure out if it is even possible. It is tempting to keep going and to see if we can make a difference.

Ted: We have been moved by having had an opportunity to work on a subject of immediate international importance. We have been moved by having had the opportunity to weigh in on an issue of global conflict and in a way we hope is constructive, and moves toward the thing we value most, which is peace.

Q. Ted, a final question for you. You spent five months in the “Hot Zone!” Darfur is notably one of the world’s most dangerous places. How are you doing? 

Pausing and then speaking pensively and deliberately... 

A. Ted: My life has been forever changed.

It is said that history always repeats itself. As we look at the atrocities taking place around the world, that adage would appear to hold a high degree of truth. However, after seeing this film it is plausible to grasp that we really can make a difference. Margaret Mead’s infamous quote comes to mind. “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.”

These filmmakers accomplished a monumental feat of translating the complexities of the Darfur conflict into subject matter comprehensible for general audiences. This film succeeds in conveying universal humanism, which has the potential to open the hearts and minds of millions. This is a both a story of hope and a call to action. Darfur Now is an extraordinary achievement, one that will surely have a far-reaching impact on all who see it.

Michele Geracoulis is a freelance health journalist with a background in political and social science research. As a Massage Therapist and Holistic Nutritional Consultant with certification in non-violent, processed-oriented communication and ordination in interfaith ministry, her body of work is founded on the interconnectedness of body, mind, spirit, and the Universe at large.


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