“Darfur Now” is surely one of the sunniest documentaries about genocide that you'll likely see, as it spotlights six individuals who are taking action to stop the Sudan tragedy and tries to make their passion friendly and contagious. Unfortunately, its all-out palatability approach prevents the film from stirringly presenting the horror and the urgency of the new century's direst human tragedy to date.
An estimated 200,000 people from Sudan's Darfur region have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced by the slaughter committed by government-backed militias, we're reminded by the film, which is in part a Darfur 101 lesson and in part a call to action. Settings range from a Sudanese refugee camp to the world of the Governator. The cast of hearty consciences combines box-office-friendly celebs with less-familiar brands of dynamo.
Adam Sterling, a young California activist, pushes for the passage of a bill that would keep state money out of Sudan. Don Cheadle, the actor, uses his fame to urge media and political figures to consider Darfur. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, International Criminal Court prosecutor in the Hague, investigates genocide perpetrators. Pablo Recalde heads a World Food Program in West Darfur. Ahmed Mohammed Abakar helps protect refugees at the Hamadea camp from attack. Hejewa Adam, whose baby was killed and whose home was destroyed, has joined the rebels and is fighting back.
Certainly, this is a laudable bunch, and you're glad to meet them. (Morento-Ocampo, who cites his role in bringing down Argentina's junta as an experience that inspires him to persevere in his Sudan-related work, is sufficiently interesting to warrant his own documentary.) The views of life in the refugee camp, where Darfurians share recollections of rape, murder and pillaging, also are noteworthy.
But not much is really enlightening or stirring. Writer-director Theodore Braun, making his big-screen debut, employs montages and slow- and fast-motion tricks, with results that feel falsely upbeat. He gives Cheadle's celebrity sequences (which also feature George Clooney) more screen time than he grants most of the others. The movie tries so hard to go down easy, complete with an attempt to tie plot threads into a Hollywood bow, that it doesn't put across the awfulness of the Darfur situation in ways that move us deeply. Consequently, for all its emphasis on getting involved, it seems unlikely to spark such action.
For a more satisfying documentary about Darfur, watch “The Devil Came on Horseback.”
Two and a half stars
Starring Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, Hejewa Adam, Don Cheadle, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Pablo Recalde, Adam Sterling
Written and directed by Theodore Braun
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes