Sudan’s stories of genocide should be told by its people

Documentary about genocide in Darfur doesn’t reach beyond the conflict

Don M. Burrows

Darfur Diaries” begins with crayon drawings based on the artwork of a Sudanese child that are interrupted by an assault of planes and tribal militias.

It’s a stark beginning to an hourlong documentary that focuses on the most heartbreaking victims of an ongoing genocide, something filmmakers Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe and Adam Shapiro think too few people know about.

Media coverage of the Sudan government’s ongoing reaction to an uprising three years ago often is considered sparse, which is why the three made the film.

In filling a news void, they have succeeded. But their film leaves its audience searching for a greater connection with the villagers profiled beyond the atrocities they have suffered.

“You use a gun to kill someone,” one villager notes in an interview. “The government uses Arab(s) to kill us.”

But while this quote illustrates the villagers’ suffering, it gives little more about this particular person’s story. The film clearly focuses on the conflict.

This conflict began in February 2003, when the Sudanese Liberation Army rebelled against the government in Darfur, in western Sudan on the border with Chad. Villagers allege mass rapes, murders and the burning of their homes. In 2004 the U.S. government officially recognized that the Sudanese government’s response to the rebellion amounted to genocide.

“Darfur Diaries” is a series of interviews with villagers, all of whom have suffered violence and destruction by the Janjaweed, a group of militias allied with President Omar al-Bashir’s government.

It chronicles the bombing raids that send children running for cover and the school that was destroyed during one of the attacks. The school has been replaced with a mud-brick building with dirt floors and no roof and is supposed to service more than 200 students.

The conflict has displaced thousands, and much of the film is spent talking to villagers whose family members have disappeared. An estimated 2 million people have been displaced, creating a humanitarian crisis for the displaced refugees. As many as 400,000 civilians have died.

“Darfur Diaries” does well at informing the audience about the crisis in Sudan, but it suffers from too much information about suffering with not enough humanity to make one connect to the featured people.