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82 minutes, 2005, Sudan and United Kingdom Producer/Director: Taghreed Elsanhouri in Arabic and English with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Director Taghreed Elsanhouri says that she made this film "out of a passionate belief that I was uniquely qualified to tell a story of race because as a northerner in Sudan I know what it is to belong to a dominant group and as a black woman in Britain living with racism I know what it must be like to live marginalized as a minority in Sudan. It is this double consciousness that informs my story." She returns to Sudan, having emigrated to Britain as a child, to see how the seemingly racially harmonious country of her memories could have become the scene of not one but two of the worst instances of ethnic cleansing in recent African history.
Up until now the perilous situation in Sudan has been seen only from outside the country. All About Darfur offers an opportunity to hear it explained by eloquent, diverse even contradictory voices from within Sudan. The director talks to ordinary Sudanese in outdoor tea shops, markets, refugee camps and living rooms about how deeply rooted prejudices could suddenly burst into a wild fire of ethnic violence. She asks how only two months after peace accords were signed ending a twenty year long civil war between the Christian and animist South and an aggressive Islamic regime in the North, war broke out between the ethnic groups in the West, or Darfur, and the government in Khartoum.
At an elementary school the director hears repeated the lessons she learned about Sudan‘s creation as a nation state. It was originally a collection of small warring fiefdoms or tribes which were only unified in 1825 by the invasion of the Ottoman Turks eager for a new source of slaves and gold. Elsanhouri’s family in fact were North Africanmerchants who emigrated with the Turks and intermarried into the Arab Danagla tribe. Sudan assumed its present boundaries as the largest country in Africa when the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium took possession of it towards the end of the century. As a consequence, a unified Sudanese cultural and political identity never had a chance to emerge. One professor interviewed suggests that the Sudanese might form a multicultural state like Switzerland but there seems little possibility for such a compromise among the distrustful potential partners of such a confederation.
All About Darfur demonstrates how race is a floating signifier changing its meaning from context to context. For example, people from the north of the Sudan are regarded as Arabs in Sudan; in Egypt they would be seen as Africans; in Tanzania as Arabs. "Race" effects status in Sudanese society. Television features almost exclusively Arab stars and Arab story lines; government jobs are channeled primarily to Arabs who also form the officer corps in the army.
When Elsanhouri reaches Elfaser, the hub of the Dafur region, she realizes that race may be too crude a concept for understanding the genocide there. The Western tribes rebelled over decades of cultural exclusion not only race or religion. The government's decision to fight a war by proxy by arming the Janjaweed militias, nomadic bandits hungry for the land of farmers in Darfur, is universally deplored. This tipped the delicate balance and started the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. The Janjaweed raided and drove hundreds of thousands of once prosperous farmers into arid refugee camps like the mammoth one at Abu Shoak which becomes the final destination of the director’s journey back to Sudan. Most of the displaced people she speaks with there are looking beyond Sudan for their final rescue. They wish the world cared enough to send multilateral peace keeping forces to stop the war so they could return to their villages. Many support a Pan-African force while some would welcome U.S. intervention even while acknowledging that the U.S. would only act out of its own self-interest.
In the final sequence the director meets a man building a new mud brick house in Abu Shoak; it will take only two or three days he says. Is this then to be the future for more and more of Africa: temporary homes in impermanent, communities dependent on foreign aid? On the side of the house the man has written the word 'book' because among all this inhumanity and violence his favorite activity remains reading.
To find out more about Darfur, visit Understanding Sudan, a teaching and learning resource for high school, college and universities.
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"A sensitive and non-sensational portrayal of the war and destruction in Darfur that privileges the voice of the average Sudanese....A useful film for those interested in contemporary African politics of ethnicity and gender, civil wars and conflict resolution and development."
Salah Hassan, Cornell University
"A highly personal documentary that is touching and illuminating."
Jennie Punter, Toronto Globe and Mail
"A provocative and intelligent film."
Henry Sheehan, President, Los Angeles Film Critics Association
"Elsanhouri seems influenced by certain Iranian filmmakers in that she modestly acknowledges the documentarian as an influential interloper...a provocative and intelligent film."