In November 2004, three Western, humanitarian filmmakers secretly traveled into the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan on a quest to raise awareness of the situation by bringing firsthand accounts of the atrocities to the screen. Their journey was not always easy with travel plans often being made on the fly, riding on top of trucks, or even trudging miles through the desert, but ultimately, they found the hardships to be well-worth the effort, for they paled in comparison to those of the people they interviewed. The Darfurians they spoke with had borne witness to or been victims of horrors that most people cannot imagine including the violent death of family members, yet they exhibited a quiet dignity and strength which is inspiring. Sometimes the interviews are very serious and poignant and at others light and breezy, finding humor even in the darkest situations. In the end, these three young people were able to learn much about the history, hopes and dreams of their subjects, and succeeded in making a film that would tell the stories of the Darfurians in their own words.
At it's heart, Darfur Diaries is about the journey of three young filmmakers who went on a quest in 2004 to foster more widespread awareness of the events that were unfolding in Darfur, but not receiving a great deal of media attention at the time. I was impressed with the courage that these three humanitarians exhibited in traveling to and spending weeks in a dangerous, war-torn region, but what impressed me even more were the people that they met along the way. These Darfurians showed a spirit of generosity in sharing not only their food and transportation, but most importantly their personal stories. While a few of the interviewees expressed a desire for revenge, usually for the deaths of family members, I was surprised that several did not seem to harbor ill feelings toward their oppressors, instead simply wanting to live in peace again. Another thing that really stood out to me was how much the Darfurians value education. Living in a country where we seem to take this privilege for granted, it was very enlightening and affecting to see such a passion for learning being expressed. I was also amazed by the resilience of the human spirit, how these people somehow still manage to continue living even in circumstances that most Americans or Westerners in general could hardly fathom. The authors attended a wedding that took place in the midst of all the destruction and in spite of the potential dangers. I found that story to be a stirring and poignant reminder of life still abiding in the midst of death.
The only real complaint I have is that when I saw the title of this book, I thought that it would chronicle in depth stories of survivors of the conflict in Darfur. It did cover the personal narratives of many Darfurians, and while some were long enough for me to get a pretty good feel for the person being interviewed and what they had been through, others were just too brief to satisfy me. Perhaps this is a good thing though, as the details of the atrocities these people had suffered would certainly not be for the faint of heart. As it is written though, I think that almost anyone could read it without feeling too depressed or overburdened, which may give it appeal to a wider audience.
Darfur Diaries was certainly not a deep political treatise on the area, but I did learn some things about the history of Sudan and the political climate that led to this conflict. I think that not bogging the book down with too many details on history or politics made it an easy read that would be accessible to anyone who would like to know more about Darfur and it's people, and I would readily recommend it in this capacity. The companion film which the authors finished and released in 2006 is titled Darfur Diaries: Message From Home. After reading Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival, I am now very interested in checking it out, so that I can see and hear the people to whom I was introduced in the book.
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