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Adam Shapiro

Community Success Story

Darfur Diaries

By Greg Jeske SIS/BA '09

Name: Adam Shapiro

Position: Filmmaker

Areas of interest: Peacebuilding

“Where [are] your mom and dad? Here?” the interviewer asks. There is a long silence as ten-year-old Ibrahim looks away and says calmly, “No. They are dead.”

On June 20, AU IPCR Ph.D. candidate Adam Shapiro and IPCR M.A. Candidate Aisha Bain screened their film Darfur Diaries for the American University community through the co-sponsorship of IPCR, the Center for Global Peace and Amnesty International.

As the film drew to a close on a balmy Tuesday evening in Kay Chapel, I could not help but find myself in a state of quiet reflection. I should say though, that when I watched Darfur Diaries, I was not as entertained as I had been viewing other documentaries. There was very little in the way of a soundtrack, no vocal narration and not even much of a clear story line. Rather, when I walked away from the screening I felt as though I had sat with Darfurians for 90 minutes and just listened to them. In the end, the silence in this film spoke for itself, for the quietness that kept me less entertained, was the same quietness that allowed me to clearly hear the voices of Darfurians. This got me thinking about the value of such an effect on the viewer and if the filmmakers had intentionally structured the film to leave this impression.

I caught up with Adam via cell phone a few days later and he explained that he believes conflict resolution scholars, practitioners and activists are often disconnected from those who are enduring the consequences of conflict. He explained, “There is a whole industry now of conflict resolution, where people sit in places like Washington, D.C. or elsewhere and propose projects for conflict resolution in various areas. How much do they understand about the way conflict is affecting individual lives when they are making these proposals or even starting certain projects? Probably not very much.” He has observed the disconnect between those involved in the conflict and those driving conflict resolution policies also applies to the Darfur situation, and it is his hope that the film can close the gap between the two. He said, “I think a lot of people in the states are active on the Darfur issue without having any sense who the people of Darfur are, which I think [is] kind of silly. So in that sense it [the film] is a contribution and makes an act of solidarity more meaningful…”

Originally in 2003, it was this disconnect that got Adam into filmmaking when he and a film team went to Iraq and made a documentary entitled About Baghdad (InCounter Productions, 2004). His complete dissatisfaction with mainstream media sources and even some alternative media sources was fueled by his belief that they did not include a diversity and plurality of voices. He stated, “There is a real need for us in the U.S., especially today, perhaps more than ever, to really hear from people all over the world, to really hear their perspectives and experiences in their own voices and not to have a mediator of resolution theory or someone telling you what they said.” It is for this reason, he says, that he wanted Darfur Diaries to stand out against the backdrop of more media driven documentaries with high-end graphics, quick edits, and narration that seems to dictate what the viewer hears from the subjects.

Before I saw Darfur Diaries, I had noticed that there has been an explosion of films about conflicts that have promoted awareness regarding various conflicts. One such film was Invisible Children. Though the film highlighted an issue that has been largely ignored by western media, when I saw it, I felt quite conflicted about its content and the impressions it left on me. After expressing this to Adam, he gave his own reservations about such films. “For instance,” he said, “MTV sent three students from around the country [USA] to go into Darfur…to report on the crises, and what they came back with was a story about three kids from America going to Darfur, they didn’t come back with Darfurian stories.” These types of documentaries perpetuate the silence of those who live in conflict. An attempt to tell their own story, directors often sacrifice the agency of their subjects and deny the telling of their own stories, in their own voice.

After seeing Darfur Diaries and reflecting on its overall impact, I cannot help but agree with Shapiro that the type of films that should be made are those “that actually explore people’s life experiences and how conflict affects it, and how they interact with the problems of conflict in order to survive, to live, to make themselves better, in order to accomplish what they want in the future. Those are the type of things that can be very useful for those who are engaged in peacemaking to watch, to learn from, and to incorporate into their work as people working in conflict resolution.” It is for this reason that Shapiro and Bain felt it important to make Darfur Diaries, for in their opinion, if such films are not made, voices such as 10-year-old Ibrahim may be lost amongst the deluge of expert opinion.

Greg Jeske (aupeace@american.edu) is a Junior in the School of International Service with an interest in International Peace & ConflictResolution, and is currently a Research Associate in IPCR. Adam Shapiro is pursuing a PhD in International Affairs at Ameri can University with a concentration in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He recently served as the Country Director in Afghanistan for the international human rights organization Global Rights (www.globalrights.org) and is the co-founder of InCounter Productions, a collective of independent activist, academics and artists who seek to present perspectives that are often marginalized by mainstream and alternative media outlets. Adam is already working on his third film, which is based in Afghanistan and likely to be released in early 2007.