Review of 'All About Darfur'
December 1, 2006
Posted to the web December 1, 2006
By Virginie Wembey
All About Darfur: Is Sudan in a culture of war?
The documentary "All about Darfur" of Salah Hassan uncovers the various conflicts ingrained in Sudanese culture which leads us to wonder whether or not Sudan has a culture of war. The film's poignant and emotional storyline unveils the mind of the people of Sudan about the state of war in their country. The testimony of the street men, the rich man, the Arab, the African, the opinions from north to south, from east to west, all retain this invariant vision which remains constant throughout the film, having a unified and stable nation of Sudan.
Through an informational interview style, the story of the country unfolds punctuated with proverbs and citations form great men such as the prophet Mohammed. The film asks the question of whether the conflict in Darfur is of a political or racial nature. Is it about a power struggle between Africans and Arabs or is it merely about racial hatred?
What is going on in Darfur? Why, in a country where in the past men of Arab or African descent could travel north to south, west to east freely and light-heartedly, is there now a tremendous sense of insecurity and a pervasive atmosphere of fear? Why are people who used to work at the sweat of their forehead to feed their families and care for their people in their villages, now find themselves idle and dependent on international aid to survive in the middle of a deserted area called a refugee camp or Abo Shoak? Why are people subject to random attacks from the militia and the army? Why are families stranded, children deprived of decent childhood, mothers and sisters killed and raped, fathers and brothers humiliated and brought to their feet? Why? Why?
These are all questions many people abroad and in Sudan are trying to find answers to. This film is an expression of the heart of Sudan, a country ravaged by wars at all fronts, with citizens stranded in conflicts they are not willing participants but rather helpless victims. This film discloses the contradictions of a culture and a society thorn between its past and its future. This film captures the different sides of a story that could be entitled "Once upon a time, there was a land too small for a nation."
The film opens up with a scene of children and quickly moves into the heart of the matter. Salah starts her interview with men in a little open-aired coffee shop. These men are at first reluctant to talk but quickly offer striking and pertinent views on the situation in Darfur and in the country in general. One of these men explained that originally, tribal leaders regulated tribal problems successfully, however, the government interference with tribal matters and most importantly, the government siding with one race, the Arabs, and arming it to fight, to the detriment of the other race, the Africans, upset the balance, making the west prone to wars.
There is the guide, who from the beginning seems to condone the government's goal of ethnic cleansing, while criticizing the strategy used to reach such goal, and yet seems to favor interracial mixing. He is proud to have his African friend, who considers himself a Arab, married to an Arab lady interviewed in the film. The guide's ambiguous view is seen time and time again in the movie. It seems hard for many Sudanese, Arabs and Africans, to reconcile their feelings about their history of peaceful co-existence to their feelings developed after the wars have lay waste to their country.
There is Teresa the coffee girl blessed with a joyous laughter, who exudes an aura of compassion and a vibrant love for her kin. She regularly provides some customers in financial difficulty with free drinks and food. Teresa, who has been evading all questions from the beginning of the film with phrases such as "I am a woman I can't think," will finally bitterly burst into tears flavored with anger when facing her family's tragedy. She tells the story of her family, her village, her tribe, African tribes all across Sudan. That testimony resonates in my heart as the story of each displaced refugee in Sudan.
I feel Teresa's story deep in my heart. I weep with Teresa and I am angry just like Teresa. But my solution to the problem might seem soft to Teresa, and rightfully so because I have not been hurt in my flesh. Like the Sudanese proverb says "the one whose hand is in the water is not like the one whose hand is in the fire." I can only empathize with Teresa's pain and understand her wish of having a son to avenge her. There lies, in Teresa's emotional distress, the difficulty in resolving the conflict in Darfur. How can Anger reach out for Compassion? It seems the clasp is buckled and the vicious circle is in place.
There is Mario, a black Arab from Malakal in the South, the crib of Africans, but born and raised in Khartoum in the North, the fief of Arabs, says that "discrimination occurs at the institutional level." He said that having a national language and programs that focus on the northern culture, causes animosity among tribes because many tribes feel left out. Another Sudanese also offered an insight into the conflict when he said that "Sudanese are not racists by nature." So, could that be the reason why Darfur, like a forest fire, seems unstoppable? Could racial hatred only be at the origin of the conflict?
Participants throughout the film from the street man, to the villager, to the prominent academic faces, to the people in the media, to the representative of women's right, all point at race as the origin of the conflict. It seems Janjaweeds have caused it all. But how to stop the conflict in Darfur?
Some advocate a transparent policy from the part of the government in resolving the conflict in Darfur and refuse external help, some insist intervention is necessary to stop the conflict, some offer a new constitution reflecting the culture of the whole country as the redeeming strategy, and yet others support neither the government nor the rebels because they are not fighting for the welfare of Sudanese people but for their own interests.
This film serves as a vessel through which the voice of the people can be channeled. The film sheds a bright light on Sudanese's tremendously diverse strings of opinions underlined with a desire for peace. The divisions and the confusion in the popular opinion reflect in a way the historical landscape of Sudan as a cohesive aggregate of small states and various ethnicities.
Salah Hassan was able to capture the thin sensitive line that divides Sudanese and defines their culture. The documentary style gives a more than real feel to the film and forces the audience to get involved.
This film is a beautiful homage to those who have perished so far in the conflicts and a keenly distressing cry to the minds involved in the conflict. It is a roar urging us to partake for the establishment of peace in a region of the World where Humanity first began.
About the author: Virginie Wembey is a pre-medical student from Cameroon currently studying in the United States. A self-described humanist, her interest in human rights led her to join UCDF, an opposition party with activities in both the U.S. and Cameroon. As a pre-medical student, she hopes to join poverty-alleviation efforts by providing quality health care services in her native country upon graduation from medical school.