BY REBECCA AGULE
Charles Ogletree, Jr., the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice hosted award-winning filmmaker Hafiz Farid on Tuesday for a screening of the documentarian’s latest work, “Darfur Too Dark Too Far”.
Introducing Farid, Ogletree said, “This film is an important contribution to a larger cause. But,” he continued, “it’s not an international movement the way it should be.”
To better understand the current crisis in Sudan, “Darfur Too Dark Too Far” unpacks the root causes of genocide, past and present. Examining, among other historical events, the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, the mass slaughters in Rwanda, the United States slave trade, “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, and Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, the film finds common origins of genocide, particularly slavery, racism and oppression in the name of religion.
“It’s important to look at genocide from a whole perspective,” Farid said before showing his film. “In order to ignite the right kind of response and awareness of the issue, we must accept that we are all in the same boat.” He continued, “Many times we are stuck in our own worlds and don’t want to identify with other people.”
The film opens by describing the modern people of Darfur as proud, colorful and strong. It then immediately begins laying out cold truths, including the fact that women and children comprise 75% of the region’s casualties. In recognition of such realities, Farid often trained his camera’s eye on the specific impact of conflict upon women and children.
Interviews with survivors of both the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide humanize and personalize the historical roles of racism and religious oppression. “Mankind is the worst kind of animal,” said one of the Armenian survivors. “Animals kill to eat. [Man] kills because of differences in religion.”
Through a narrower lens, the film examines how the three overarching root causes – slavery, racism and religious oppression – played out in Sudan, specifically via European colonialism’s division of native peoples into different strata.
Soul artist and activist Mtume gives his succinct perspective on the impact of these historical conditions: “It’s a color, class distinction.”
One of Farid’s most effective and memorable moves juxtaposes the horror in New Orleans following Katrina with the on-going devastation in Darfur. Both scenes depict death, flight, disease and destruction; rising water in the former is replaced by blowing sand and dust in the latter.
The words of powerful personalities balance the film’s powerful images. Simon Deng, an internationally renowned Sudanese activist features prominently throughout. A former slave, he identifies the significance of a victim’s or potential victim’s skin color. “If they were white people, we would have gone to World War III,” Deng says in the film.
Other activists interviewed include Dr. Jerry Ehrlich, who describes his work through Doctors Without Borders, including a project prompting the children of Darfur to express their experiences and emotions with crayon and paper. Farid also speaks with Daoud Hari, a Darfuri granted refugee status in the United States who then returned to Darfur to report on the atrocities.
The soundtrack includes Billy Holiday’s immortal “Strange Fruit”, which decries the lynching of African-Americans throughout the American South. Rod Stewart’s “So Far Away” closed the film on a poignant note, matching the lyrics, “One more song about moving along the highway” with pictures of refugees fleeing in mass numbers. Present at the event and speaking after the end of the film, Dr. Ehrlich made an obvious, but often overlooked point. “If we end this conflict earlier, there will be more survivors.”
During the short panel discussion that followed the screening, Dr. Lori Heninger, Executive Director of HiTOPS, Inc., implored the audience to take action. “Keep yourselves educated about what’s happening, keep talking about it, read the paper,” she said. “Tell everybody you know about Darfur.”
Educated at West Virginia University, Fairmont University and NYU, Farid has worked in entertainment for over fifteen years. Past projects by Farid include “Thug Angel”, a film about Tupac Shakur, produced by Quincy Jones, and “Pillar of Salt: The Angry Woman’s Syndrome”, which won Best Documentary and Best Directorial Debut at the New York International Film Festival. Farid also founded and serves as Executive Director of NoCane, Inc., a non-profit aimed at youth empowerment and substance-abuse prevention.
Prior to the main presentation, WBZ news anchor Liz Walker, screened a short trailer of her own Darfur-based documentary, “A Glory From God”, which centers on the story of Gloria White-Hammond, a Massachusetts minister and pediatrician who helps lead the missions of My Sister’s Keeper. This US faith-based organization aims to support African women in their economic development, healthcare and education initiatives. Achol Cyier Rehan, the first female commissioner of Gogrial County, Sudan, was featured prominently in the Walker’s film and spoke to the event’s audience about her own fears and hopes for the Sudanese people.
“I am very touched to see the American population concerned about Sudan,” she said. “Solving the issues in Darfur means also solving the issues in South Sudan.” “Darfur Too Dark Too Far”, a Foremost Films production, made its major premiere in July 2007 at the New York International Film Festival.