Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jane and Darfur

It's true that I've the annoying tendency to understand the world through my friends. I say "annoying" not only because others have called it that, which they have, but because I know it is. "Lazy" and "indulgent" I suppose work as well. I engage through personal connection and anecdote. So be it. It's my way in.

Last week during sxsw I had the pleasure to run into two very good, old friends. The second, a British expatriate mother of four, ended up producing The Devil Came on Horseback. I discovered her involvement rather randomly. Having a post Doc Tour screening (The Trials of Daryl Hunt) drink with Annie Sundberg , she decided to show me the opening for her new film. She was rushing to finish for Sundance. The name Jane Wells appeared as producer. "Jane Wells!" I told Annie I used to have a good friend name with that name -- a young Brit in NY when we were in our twenties. We'd had our first kids around the same time, then she had three more. We'd been in touch only briefly. Oddly enough we'd run into her eldest on our very last day in Taveuni. He was there volunteering. We were hanging around the airport waiting to get out after the morning flight we'd booked was full. It was a delightful surprise.

This was another delightful surprise. A woman of priviledge, I'd last heard that she'd moved her family to Aspen. Didn't know why, or how it was working out.

I made a point of attending the Devil's first sxsw screening. Then Jane was, more beautiful and somehow youthful, than decades earlier. My jaw dropped as she began to speak. Even more after I'd seen the devasting documentary. The indulgent life I'd imagined in Aspen now replaced by a dogged obsession with the genocide in Darfur. Tonight I caught up with her numerous posts on the Huffington Report. I'm humbled and in awe.

Some samples:

From Nov. 23, 2005: The Drug that Chose Me

There is an old song by k.d. lang, "My Last Cigarette," with the line, "sometimes your drug chooses you... " I have been thinking the same applies to passions and causes. Why are some of us compelled to work in a food kitchen while others campaign tirelessly for the rights of the spotted owl?

Obviously my concern with Darfur and that particular genocide comes under this category -- in my lifetime I have been aware of, but disconnected from, genocide in Cambodia, the Balkans, Rwanda, Iraq....perhaps Darfur chose me....

One day it may happen that we wake up and feel we must act, and naturally we want others to act too. We hope to influence others to see the way we see, feel what we feel, give where we give and help as we wish to help. Every cause worth its salt recognizes this and acquires or solicits celebrity and influential spokespeople. Lobbyists might be hired, politicians pick their issues, journalists pick their battle cries. Americans put on their bumper stickers (well I do) and as a result we all hope to sleep better at night, perhaps having "done something." Sometimes we are collectively bombarded as with the tsunami...sometimes a creeping consciousness occurs and grows. (more)

The latest: Good News from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Austin, TX.-- Something good came out of the Texas Capitol yesterday: a unanimous vote cleared the proposed Darfur Divestment Bill (# 247) through the senate committee stage. As Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, (R-Tomball) explained, it was a signal to the world that even Republicans in the President's conservative home state can work in a bi-partisan way to end what the UN has deemed the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today: the genocide in Darfur...

....I was grateful that the authors of this legislation asked me, and others involved in the documentary about the genocide in Darfur, The Devil Came on Horseback, to testify before the senate committee. We were in Austin for the SXSW Film Festival and the opportunity to add first-hand witness testimony was serendipitous. At Sundance in January we had attended a lackluster panel "Making Movies That Matter, Matter" and I had wondered whether, beyond the runaway success of An Inconvenient Truth (a film made by a politician), documentary really has any place in American politics today. A far more robust SXSW panel on political documentaries "Doc Politics As Usual" took place at the same time as the Senate hearings and we had to divide up our creative team to speak at both events. It was a good moment to see the confluence of political will and the power of film. (more)

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