BET documentary educates students on Darfur

By on December 5, 2007

When Black Entertaiment Television’s documentary “Life and Death in Darfur” premiered in the School of Communications Nov. 13, the film’s executive producer, Greg Branch, informed students that the Darfurian conflict is one that “as Americans, we can’t afford to ignore.”
“Darfur for Dummies,” as Branch deemed the film, examines the lives of Darfurians who have been victims of violence, rape and terror during this crisis that has been recognized internationally as a genocide, though the Sudanese government denies such allegations.
Many Darfurians have been driven into camps and the wilderness, as both rebel groups and government troops wreak havoc in villages all over the country.
The 22-minute film featured journalist Jeff Johnson, an activist and social commentator. Johnson, who lectured on “Sexism and Hip-Hop” later that day, was scheduled to appear at a “Q & A” session alongside Branch. However, flight delays postponed his arrival on campus. Still, Branch discussed the film and its goals with Dean David Donnelly, Professor Margarita Diaz and just 14 students for more than 45 minutes in the dark, cold and cramped Mac editing lab.
The project was a unique opportunity for BET, as Branch said that he and his team were actually “invited by the government of Sudan, which is the only way to get into Sudan.”
He said that he was immediately “very skeptical” and “thought it was propaganda” until the ambassador said “they would give [the journalists] a certain amount of freedom. one-on-one time with the president of Sudan,” which Branch promised to include in the film.
Although Omar Al-Bashir, the president, spoke for more than an hour and a half, they could only “touch on a bit of it” in the documentary. The BET journalists’ ultimate goal really was “to be able to talk to Darfurians that were still there,” since most Darfurians have been pushed out to Chad.
Branch said that although humanitarian groups like Doctors without Borders have “a presence” in Darfur, “the situation changing over the next five to 10 years really depends on international interest.”
He pointed out that the conflict in Darfur is one Americans must pay attention to, despite his opinion that “the American media does not care.” He said that it will have an impact on an international scale, and although “wars in Africa don’t tend to be wars we’re used to fighting. it could be as important.”
The conflict is not well-covered because “it is not a sexy issue. not an issue that we can sell well,” Branch said. Still, Branch is hopeful that more news-based outlets will follow BET’s lead. “I did show this to CBS news, so hopefully they pick up on it,” he told students.
“I think little movies like this can start people to get wound up,” Branch said. “It’s a long way away.people don’t feel connected right away. there isn’t a reason to seek it out and find it.” Branch declared that “it is our job [as journalists] to make it plain and available.”
Throughout the semester, journalism students in Assistant Dean Rick Hancock’s Reporting for the Web class have been creating interactive news packages exploring the conflict in Darfur on an international, domestic, and collegiate level.


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