Amherst Magazine

Darfur Now

Written and directed by Ted Braun ’82. Executive producers include Dean Schram ’84. Los Angeles: Warner Independent Pictures and Participant Productions, 2007 (in theaters), 2008 (on DVD). 99 minutes.

 
Ted Braun '82
Director Ted Braun '82 in the Darfur
region of Sudan. He traveled there
to shoot parts of the film.

Review by Lisa Y. Garibay '96

A scene in Darfur Now finds Adam Sterling, a student-turned-activist, comparing the Darfur region of Sudan to Nazi Germany. “Here we’ve got a chance to make it right,” says Sterling, whose grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, “and we’ve just fallen flat on our faces.” Darfur Now, another Participant Production, is a hopeful documentary that chronicles the trials—some mundane, some life-threatening—of six people, including Sterling, working to stop the systematic rape and murder in West Darfur.

There is Sterling, who spearheaded a successful campaign to divest California state funds from Sudan. There is Hejewa Adam, who became a rebel fighter after her 3-month-old son was beaten to death by the Janjaweed militias. The baby was strapped to her back when it happened. There is actor Don Cheadle, one of the film’s producers, who learned about the situation in Darfur while filming the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda. Luis Moreno-Ocampo is a prosecutor with the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He brought about arrest warrants for top Sudanese officials in connection with the atrocities. Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, after fleeing his village in Darfur, now oversees a 47,000-person refugee camp. Pablo Recalde leads the World Food Program in West Darfur.

The documentary, from director and screenwriter Ted Braun ’82, comes four years after then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell first described the Darfur atrocities as genocide. Braun got a rare inside look at Darfur when he traveled to the region to shoot parts of the film. (Braun is a screenwriting professor at the University of Southern California, and he offered a screenwriting course at Amherst in 1994.)

Darfur Now was born when Dean Schram ’84 called Braun to suggest the idea of a documentary. Braun says he tackled the project in the same way he would have approached a fictional feature film. “We wanted to take the audience—in a very old-school kind of way—to a part of the world they’d never been to before,” Braun says. “We wanted to engage them in the lives of characters who were passionate and diverse and up against really long odds with no certainty of success.” It’s a time-tested storytelling model. He drew ideas from commercial successes like Traffic and Syriana “that took complicated social-political problems but made them accessible to a wide audience.”

The production benefits from the work of seasoned Hollywood professionals—including producer Cathy Schulman, who won a Best Picture Oscar in 2006 for Crash—who worked for little or no pay. Darfur Now became an official selection at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. It has also been screened for members of the U.N. Security Council. “We’re having a voice,” Braun says. “People who make decisions—as well as ordinary citizens—are having a chance to see what’s happening in Darfur, to hear first-hand from the people in Darfur, in a way they never have before.”

Garibay, a freelance writer in Los Angeles, is a regular contributor to film industry magazines.

Photo copyright 2007 AIW Documentary, LLC and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.