April 3, 2008

Students Ponder Darfur Documentary

Print More

“Sand and Sorrow”, a documentary on Darfur by award-winning director Paul Freedman, was screened in Lewis Auditorium on Tuesday, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker on Tuesday.
Islamic Alliance for Justice and Americans for Informed Democracy co-hosted the event, through which they hoped to raise the students’ awareness about the genocide towards non-Arab people by the Sudanese government in Darfur.
“We really want to educate people about Darfur, motivate them to actually do something and to be proactive,” said Khullat Munir ’09, president of IAJ and vice president of AID.
The documentary depicts the situation in Darfur, as well as examines the reactions of the international community to the humanitarian crisis. Besides offering historical background of the issue, the film also incorporates personal stories of different people, such as an African Union peacekeeper, American student activists and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who guide the viewers through the death, persecution and displacement in Darfur to the international human rights movement.
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Pulitzer Winner Samantha Power, activist John Prendergast and U.S. Senator Barack Obama all share their insights into the Darfur issue in the film, which features George Clooney as a narrator.
“I have a great narrator [in] George Clooney … one thing is that he has a great voice. It’s like he has his arm around you, explaining something to you, like an uncle,” Freedman said.
As a filmmaker who regards documentary as “a tool of social change,” Freedman said he aspires to raise more awareness and empower people to prevent tragedies like Darfur from happening again.
“Right now in America, there are a bunch of people who want to make [the phrase] ‘Never again’ mean something. I want to give them a tool to raise awareness, to tell them they are not powerless, they can organize, they can get groups together, they can inspire people to demand something,” said Freedman.
Criticisms of the silence of the world’s governments are also presented in the film. Power says in the documentary that the U.S. government policy does not live up to its accusation of the genocide. She adds that each country has its reason to refrain from taking action in dangerous places like Darfur.
“We could have done many things to prevent huge killing. Now when everything is over, we say. ‘Why we didn’t do that?’ Like [Power] said in the film, ‘Everyone wants them to be saved, but nobody is willing to make them be saved,’” Freedman said.
In contrast to the disappointment in the current government, Freedman expressed his high expectation of the role that the young generation and the grassroots movement can play in improving the situation in Darfur.
In the documentary, two American girls organize a presentation by Rwanda genocide survivors in their local high school. According to Freedman, the reason he involves students is to “build in a sense of hope into the film,” and try to avoid showing “90 minutes of killing”.
He said, “If I show this [film] to students, then I will be doing something very useful. Students are going to grow up and next time [genocide] happens, today’s young people will be in a position where they won’t allow this to happen.”
“Student groups in this country are concerned about the problems which are paralyzed by the government,” Freedman added.
In addition, Freedman advocates putting more pressure on the U.S. government to take action against the genocide, more pressure on the Sudanese government, as well as more pressure on countries that Sudan aligns itself with, including Arab countries and China, to change their stances. He also supports the idea of a “Genocide Olympics Campaign” this summer against the Chinese government’s assistance to Sudan.
When asked about the implications of the U.S. presidential election on Darfur, Freedman answered that the Democratic candidates will possibly bring more compassionate policies toward Darfur.
The student audience suggested that they were better informed by the documentary.
“The film evokes a sense of awareness. I am a little disappointed to see the low turnout [at the event] compared to the large scale of the problem we are facing. But the film solicits more information for us, lets us get a better sense of what’s going on and compels us to be more proactive,” said Giselle Sedano ’08.