Film: Darfur
Release date: 28th February 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Uwe Boll
Starring: Kristanna Loken, David O'Hara, Noah Danby, Matt Frewer, Hakeem Kae-Kazim
Genre: Drama
Studio: High Fliers
Format: DVD
Country: Canada/South Africa/Germany

This is an English-language release.

World-renowned Director, Uwe Boll, takes a step away from adapting video games into big screen features and focuses on a project which highlights the massive humanitarian shortfalls in Darfur, Sudan.

The film - previously called Janjaweed, and also known as Attack On Darfur – centres around six journalists visiting a small village in the Darfur region of Western Sudan. Their intentions are to photograph and interview the inhabitants of a small village, taking accounts of the ongoing conflict and suffering in the region.

The journalists, accompanied by the Nigarian commander of the African Union (AU), Captain Jack Tobamke, interact with the village inhabitants on a very personal level. The group learn of the harsh realities surrounding the treacherous attacks by the Janjaweed, a militia funded by the Sudanese government, whose intentions are to wipe out the African tribes of Darfur.

Having obtained some insight into the lives of those suffering in the small village, the group begin their journey back toward camp. En route, however, the group learn that the Janjaweed will imminently be descending upon the village they have just left. The group must therefore make an almost spontaneous decision, to either continue on course for camp and document their findings for the world, or return to the village in the hope that the presence of international journalists will prevent the Janjaweed from inflicting any violence upon the inhabitants.

When the group agree to return to the village, they are soon faced with the reality of the conflict, and with the commander of the Arab Janjaweed. When forced at gunpoint to leave the village, the journalists have little choice but to head back to camp. However, two of the journalists, Freddie Smith (David O’Hara) and Theo Schwartz (Noah Danby) are unable to simply return to camp and allow the inhumane Janjaweed to slaughter innocent people.

Swartz and Smith therefore, along with Captain Tobamke, return to the village, armed and seeking to prevent the murder of innocent men, women and infants. Outnumbered and inexperienced in combat, their task is unquestionably courageous, yet exceptionally dangerous…

Uwe Boll’s fans and critics – and there are many of each – will note that this film is not a typical Boll production. Better known for transferring the thrills and gore of computer games into live action films, Boll has taken on a somewhat different project. The docu-drama centres around the conflict within the region of Darfur, which despite being well documented, remains largely unimpressed upon the world. To consider that UN intervention has occurred on a larger scale and with greater haste than occurred in the Darfur region of Sudan, is evidently Boll’s intent in making this film. Boll does not want the world to remain ignorant to the genocide that took place, and his movie makes perfectly clear the type of crimes that were committed.

The film starts at a very slow pace, with the group travelling in a jeep towards the village, stopping along the way to observe a mass grave. This scene, whilst disturbing and impacting upon the audience, still does not quite set the tone for what is to come.

The early scenes in the village, whereby the African victims of the conflict tell their stories, are filmed very carefully, and capture just the kind of emotion and disclosure as is sought by the characters themselves on their visit. Filmed in the style of a documentary, the audience gain some background knowledge surrounding the conflict, as well as a harrowing insight into the victims’ lives. These early scenes assist greatly in building the audience’s empathy towards the victims.

When the film picks up pace, and the horrendous realities of what actually occurred within these villages is shown to the audience, the initial shock coupled with the anticipation of what is to come will undoubtedly have the audience at their most attentive. The soundtrack is constant and brilliantly fitting at this stage of the film, managing to maintain a sombre mood whilst simultaneously sustaining a fast-paced and heavy beat.

The script takes a downward turn following the second departure of the journalists, and Boll seems to take a similar approach to that of producing one his video game ‘shoot ‘em up’ films. The dialogue becomes weak and lazy, and there are some scenes which really lack authenticity. For instance, when the journalists make their way back into the village and cautiously seek out the Janjaweed, the pair appear to have undergone some intense Special Forces training just prior, enabling them to professionally pursue and target the militia.

Nevertheless, Boll sustains his shocking imagery of rape, murder and infanticide through to the conclusion, which may seem a little over the top at times, but which is wretchedly accurate all the same. There is not a hint of caution shown by Boll in his approach to the subject matter, and certainly those with little knowledge on the subject of the Darfur conflict will be appalled by what they see on screen.

Boll could certainly have developed more upon the religious, political and social problems which resulted in the conflict commencing and being maintained, as it is somewhat simplified as an Arabs versus black Africans war. That said, the film focuses more on the consequences of the war as opposed to just the background to it, and Boll succeeds in highlighting these consequences to the audience.

The film is shot using a mixture of close up and distance shots for varying effects. The zoomed shots enable the audience to feel up close and personal with the victims of the conflict, and to really develop that sense of empathy which Boll requires for the film to work. Yet, in the same scenes, Boll will use a long range shot to show the audience just how detached and abandoned these inhabitants really are from anybody else, and this creates a vast sense of hopelessness.

“That we have not stopped the genocide means we have not learned from history” read the final words on the screen. This would be an apt conclusion had the film carried slightly less Hollywood-style drama to it in the final scenes. That said, the lasting impact of the film is more than enough for the audience to take away as food-for-thought on the conflict of Darfur.

A deeply disturbing portrayal of the atrocities committed in Darfur, which understandably will not be to everybody’s taste. The plot may be a little on the Hollywood side and the characters less than convincing, but love him or hate him, Boll should be given credit for this harrowingly accurate and compelling feature. TMO

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