Saturday, 3 September 2011

Darfur - A student's film review

My Geography film of the week this week was Darfur - a film that was suggested we watched for the Development and Globalisation module. Before I write any more I have to emphasise that Millie's warning about this film is one to strongly consider before watching it as it is very graphic (really not one for the faint hearted) and is a film that I would suggest you watch with a cushion nearby to hide behind - trust me, it is more graphic and horrifically shocking than 'Shooting Dogs', that film Millie made us watch at Christmas!

This film tells the story of the journey taken by a group of international journalists in the Darfur region as they search for evidence that suggests genocide has/is happening. Unaware of what they might find, this group of international journalists visit a small village in Darfur under the protection of the African Union (AU). They manage to persuade their guide to take them to a village in Janjaweed territory and when they arrive, the journalists see how the Sudanese live daily in fear of rape, torture and murder by the government and rebel militia. Whilst interviewing the Sudanese men and women for accounts to take back home to convince the UN that genocide has occured, the Janjaweed militia turn up and threaten to kill the journalists if they do not live immediately.......

I am not quite sure how much you will know about what has happened in Sudan, before it split this year, and the events that this film is losely based on, so I will attempt to summarise some of the key points.  Civil conflict has occured on and off in Sudan for decades but in 2003, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) began attacking governments targets after accusing Khartoum of oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs. Most of the tension built up in the Darfur region which had already experienced decades of violence and tension over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs and farmers from Massaleet and Zaghawa communities. Government response to this rebellion wasn't approved by the international community as they admitted to mobilising what they classed as ' self-defence militia'. However the President denied all accusations that they had links to the Arab Janjaweed militia who were accused of trying to drive out black Africans from large expanses of Sudan. Refugees from this conflict say that this is wrong as air raids by government aircraft were followed by Janjaweed attacks, who would ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women, taking children and stealing whatever they could find.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not it should be classed as a genocide as firstly they are unsure excatly how many were killed and many of those that died, died due to starvation or disease. Many human rights groups and the US have said that genocide has infact taken place but, after an investigation in 2005, the UN concluded that war crimes had been committed but there had been no intent to commit genocide. The UN has estimated that since 2003 over 300,000 people have died (mainly believe that the actually figure is much higher) whilst 2.7 million have been displaced - mainly to refugee camps near the main towns or to neighbouring Chad where, as it has a similar ethnic make-up to Darfur, the violence has spilt over. The situation in Sudan has been incredibly unstable and unsecure for years and so many aid agencies have been unable to reach those that most need the help with some even being banned from northern Sudan following the arrest warrant for the President in 2009 for alleged war crimes.
I am guessing that most of you will know enough about what has happened most recently in Sudan, with reference to its split, but if you don't there is plently to read about it on the internet!

Is this a good geography film? Well, before I watched it my brother asked my what it was all about so I told him a bit about the background to the film and his first remark was to question what excatly genocide and the recent events in Darfur have got to do with Geography. Whats the answer.......well genocide effects both people and the environment and geography is all about people and the environment and how the interact. Going down the more human geography route first, genocide has impacts that can fill all the parts of S.P.E.E.D. Often the conflict can stem from social unrest, which can be generated via political unrest, and results in huge long-lasting societal and political changes. Geopolitics can become involved due to the view taken and role played by the international community. This can, in turn, lead to trade embargoes and cause fluctutations in the global market and thus effect the economies in countries across the world aswell as the country in which the conflict occurs.  Demographically, bites would become visible in population pyramids of that country whilst bulges in others due to forced migration. The mass migration away from the affected regions provokes the development of refugee camps which further increase issues with food and water availability, sanitation, spread of disease and all the other problems that are generated by the shear volume of people in such a small area being dependent on already previously limited resources. Migration to other countries only allows the violence and detrimental impacts of the conflict to spill over into neighbouring countries - an action in some cases that only sustains the violence. You can then link it to issues with aid getting to the people who need it and what types of aid are best in these situations etc. Honestly, this list could go on and on and I am sure you could think of a dozen more links to human geography straight away without too much thought; so what about physical geography? This is slightly harder but not impossible, especially if you look into what provoked the conflict. In a previous post I have already touched on the link between climatic changes and conflict and, with particular reference to the Darfur crisis, there is debate over the role played by regional climate changes in the initiation of the conflict with many arguing that drought and desertification played an influential role in stimulating civil unrest. You then have all the impacts that the conflict has on the environment so for example, if you can remember back to when we did that assignment for the energy module which included questions on the use of appropriate technology in Rwanda to help the coffee farmers as the conflict has destroyed much of the plantations and left the land unusable which then obvisouly have knock impacts on society. So, hopefully this proves the link between genocide and geography (I did manage to persuade my brother they were linked, although not to watch the film) so now I need to answer whether or not this is a good geography film.......

This film seems to have the sole purpose of shocking the watcher and it very successfully does this by presenting some truly horrific scenes. In terms of educational content, it definetly replicates what life in Darfur in the height of the conflict would have been like for people but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered - something which, to a certain extent, can be good as it should inspire you to go away and do your own research/reading into the topic. I think in relation to our geography course it is a film to watch and then link it to what you know about development, factors that affect it and the current situation in that part of the world etc. The current situation in Africa definetly sprung to mind: why didn't NATO and other international organisations get involved straight away to provide protection for the people when they rather rapidly got involved in Libya this year? For me, as a geography film from an educational perspective, I think it focuses too much on shocking the audience than necessarily educating them, although it does pick on a few key points like issues with aid agencies and the role of the international community, and I think most people will end up spending rather a lot of the time not actually watching the film but looking away (I certainly did!).  I have to admit though that although I recognise that in some cases people need to be shocked into realising/accepting/understanding/taking action etc., I am not a big fan of it and I personally feel that this film went a little bit to far down that route. Despite this, there are many things that you can learn from the film and it is, without a doubt, very thought provoking! If you have a strong stomach then watch it and read up on the details about the Darfur Crisis afterwards, the knowledge you will gain from doing so will really help with geography in general as it can be linked to some many different topics - I think you could possibly even link it right back to colonialsim in relation to how colonial powers literally chopped up Africa, with no consideration of how they were dividing cultural and ethnic groups and, certainly in Sudan, the north saw far greater development than the south. After watching this film you will certainly be able to understand why both North Sudan and South Sudan are at their currently levels of development.

So, if you think you can cope with the simply horrific and disturbingly graphic scenes which run throughout this film then watch it, as I have said you will learn things from it, but I just hope you heed mine and Millie's warnings beforehand - it really isn't one to watch if you haven't got a strong stomach, it is probably a good idea to watch it with some who has so they can tell you to look away at certain points and it will leave you feeling rather depressed, shocked and horrified afterwards that these sorts of things have actually occured - feelings only intensified by the realisation that similar events have occured on the same, and large scales, in other countries around the world.

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