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Warner Home Video presents

Darfur Now (2007)

"Our call today is that priorities be linked to human survival not political processes. Because someday this will end, and the question then will be asked: ĎWhere did the nations of these United Nations stand?íĒ- George Clooney (UN Address)

Stars: Sheikh Ahmed Mohamad Abakar, Adam Sterling, Don Cheadle
Other Stars: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Ted Braun

MPAA Rating: PG for Intense descriptions of atrocities
Run Time: 01h:38m:03s
Release Date: 2008-05-27
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AAA- B+


DVD Review

I took a class on the Holocaust during my senior year of college in which the professor chose to draw parallels to Darfur as part of the closing lecture. It was a successful attempt at bringing the horrors of the World War II genocide full circle, reminding us that itís more than just history. Government-backed slaughter is very much a fact of todayís modern world and itís happening on our proverbial watch.

Darfur Now isnít the in-depth documentary on the troubled history of the region I was expecting. Thereís a brief history lesson offered at the beginning, explaining that General Omar Bashir seized power of the region through a military coup in 1989, eventually calling upon violent militia members to quell the steadily mounting backlash to his seizure. It acquaints us with the problems of the region in a broad stroke, but it never amounts to much more than an overview. The aim of this documentary isnít one of education, necessarily, and I mention this so viewers can keep their expectations in check.

As the title implies, Darfur Now serves as a rallying cry attempting to incite people to take action against the injustices happening regularly in the Sudan. We follow several different people on their quest to do so. A college graduate turned activist, a prosecutor for the International Court, a local Sheikh who overseas a displacement camp, a relief worker whom regularly transports food to the tribes, a Sudanese rebel who rallies against the tyrannical government, and actor Don Cheadle, who uses his celebrity to raise awareness for Darfur. Each person is attempting to right the rampant wrongs of the region in varied ways and all of the stories are fascinating and well worth telling.

During the 98 minutes of this film, I felt burdened by a steadily mounting swell of shame. I kept thinking back to my history class and how Iíd managed to forget all about my professorís lecture in the two years between college and this documentary. To be perfectly honest, I wasnít all that familiar with Darfur then, and while I found my professorís lecture thought-provoking and more than a little depressing, it wasnít all that long before it faded from my memory. I was graduating in less than two weeks and had to start worrying about my future, after all. Where was I going to work? I couldnít make it too far beyond the town limits with my current rustbucket Ö time to think about getting some new wheels. Then thereís that notion of finally moving in with my girlfriend. With my own life brimming with issues pertaining to mycomfort and survival, it was just too easy to forget all about Darfur.

And thatís one of the points Ted Braun makes with this documentary. For many people around the world, complacency can deter action. Thereís a scene early on where we see our college activist attempting to collect signatures to stop the murder in Darfur. He intends to take this collection of signatures to his local congressman (or anyone who will listen, really) but most people pass him by on the street without as much as a second thought. While nobody really likes being hassled as they go about their day to day routing, it does reiterate my earlier point: sometimes weíre too busy to get involved. Or, at least, we think we are. And thatís not intended to be a slight against anyone. After all, what good can a signature do?

If thereís something to take away from Darfur Now, however, itís that a signature does help. Anything helps, really, and the participants of the film reiterate this time and time again. Thereís a moment that illustrates just how much weight a bundle of signatures can pull. If thereís one message to take away from Darfur Now, itís that no deed is too small when it comes to this cause.

Unfortunately, there aren't much in the way of answers beyond that, and those looking for them are bound for disappointment. Thereís even a moment where Cheadle, when confronted by a classroom full of college students, tells them theyíll have to find their own answers.

While the earnest wakeup call is certainly at the heart of the film, see it for the up close and personal depiction of the plight of the Sudanese people. The moments set in the actual villages in Darfur are obviously the most chilling, particularly when the survivors of atrocities reminisce about their experiences. Watching these moments is akin to watching a fantasy film—it's incredibly difficult to imagine something like this happening amidst modern day civilization. When the Sudanese rebel addresses her followers by reminding them that they are not afforded the luxuries of materialism while fighting a battle for freedom, it's impossible to not appreciate one's own lot in life. Darfur Now gets its point across without lingering on the brutal aftermath of the violence. Itís talked about in graphic detail but never shown, and it's the quiet bits detailing human suffering and misery that tend to linger on the brain.

Some aspects of this documentary are bound to resonate more with some viewers than with others, but itís hard to imagine anyone not being fascinated by the surprising insight given to the inner workings of the International Court. The moments with the prosecutor building his case against two key players in the Sudanese regime is alternatively riveting and infuriating.

There's a lot of substance here and it's impossible not to get sucked into the story from the get go. It's fast-paced, eye-opening, and surprisingly accessible.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As far as documentaries go, Darfur Now's image quality is surprisingly strong and colorful. The film is well shot and the transfer reflects the cinematography without any artifacting or edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital track frequently exercises your home theater's equipment, mainly through the lively musical pulse; the subwoofer remains active mainly for this reason. Machine gun fire is aggressive through the rear speakers, as is general background noise (chatter and sound) in the Sudan village scenes. This is a dialogue-heavy film and the audio is always crystal clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Black August
In the Valley of Elah
Michael Clayton
10,000 B.C.
Darfur Now promo (not accessible through menu)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/Director Ted Braun
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by writer/director Ted Braun (3m: 57s)
Extras Review: The collection of special features assembled here aren't excessive, but the substance is rich and rewarding.

The 10 deleted scenes run 33 minutes and prove to be as interesting as the finished film. A candid discussion with the Arab militia is the highlight, poising an entirely different perspective on the situation. It's uncomfortable to watch, but it brings balance to the film and raises questions as well. Other cut scenes detail additional struggles of the Sudanese people as well as the plight of our activists trying to help them.

The audio commentary by writer-director Ted Braun is a dry discussion in which too much time is spent discussing the action on the screen. There are several tidbits revealed about the making of the film, but it's an unbalanced conversation at best. For those folks hard of hearing, Warner has replicated the commentary track through subtitles.

Likewise, Braun's introduction runs nearly four minutes and reiterates the film's mission statement.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

If Darfur Now isnít the political and historical lesson I was expecting, itís an inspirational and moving film about optimism against an unthinkable evil in modern society. It reminds us that, in this case, no action taken is too small or insignificant. That a unified awareness is the first step to ending the pointless slaughter of thousands of human beings whose only crime is to exist in a war-torn part of the world.

Matt Serafini 2008-05-28