The theme of my festival this year seems to be genocide. Fugitive Pieces, Shake Hands With The Devil and Darfur Now – these are the films I’ve done the most work on. Not really what you’d call fun, although all three films have uplifting messages by the end.
That’s why the two Mavericks panels I attended were so fantastic: they were anti-depressants, in panel form.
The first was The Time Is Now: A Conversation About Darfur, which took place at the Isabel Bader Theatre on Sunday afternoon. Three of the participants in Darfur Now – actor Don Cheadle, activist Adam Sterling, and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – were there, along with the director, Ted Braun, and producers Cathy Schulman and Mark Jonathan Harris.
Moreno-Ocampo opened the panel by giving some extremely forthright remarks about just who is responsible for the crimes occurring in Darfur. An Argentinian, he has seen first-hand how governments can oppress their own people, but also how the law can catch up with them.
“Respect for the law is the only lasting peace,” he said. Warrants have been issued for two members of the Sudanese government; as yet, they have not been turned over to the Hague, and, in a horribly ironic turn of events, one was recently put in charge of human rights for Sudan.
Cheadle talked about his involvement, which began after California Congressman Ed Royce saw Cheadle’s film Hotel Rwanda, and invited Cheadle on a trip to Darfur.
“Once I’d seen it with my own eyes, it was impossible to come back and do nothing,” Cheadle said.
Like many people who want to help, he cast around for ways he could make a difference. Then it hit him.
“Oh wait, I’m an actor,” he realized. “I go on red carpets and people put mics in front of me and ask what does Brad [Pitt] like to eat.” (Answer: “Anything.”)
“But then I can go on and talk about what I want to talk about.”
Cheadle’s fame and friendship with megastars like Pitt and George Clooney has certainly helped the cause; the film shows him and Clooney meeting with representatives of the Egyptian government, a huge trading partner with Sudan. At the time, Cheadle says in the film, that was the highest-level meeting anyone from the U.S. had taken with the Egyptians on the issue.
But perhaps the most inspiring person on the panel was the young activist Adam Sterling, the director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force. Not being an actor or a high-level criminal prosecutor, he reached his goal the old-fashioned way, by pestering people.
That pestering eventually led to a signing ceremony in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, where the governator signed legislation – essentially written by Sterling – that would punish California companies doing business with Sudan. Similar legislation has since been adopted by 12 other states.
He suggested that anyone who wasn’t pals with George Clooney go to genocideintervention.net to find out what they could do to get involved.
Being a movie star is a pretty good way to get attention, but being a former president of the United States works even better, apparently.
That’s what the audience learned at Everything To Gain: A Conversation With Jimmy And Rosalynn Carter at the Ryerson on Monday afternoon.
They were there to promote the North American premiere of Jonathan Demme’s documentary about them, Man From Plains, and to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Carter Center, the humanitarian organization they founded once the president was, as he put it, “involuntarily retired from the White House.”
“Being a past First Lady is a really good position to be in,” Rosalynn Carter said. She can pick up the phone and get an expert in anything to help on just about any project.
The Carter Center makes sure it doesn’t duplicate work other organizations are doing, the president said. That’s why, while many charities and foundations are attacking AIDS and malaria, for example, the Carter Center sets its sights on “neglected diseases” such as Guinea worm, a horrible parasite caught by drinking unclean water. Since it began fighting the disease, the center has seen the number of cases drop from the millions to the thousands.
The center also monitors elections in emerging democracies and lends a hand to Habitat for Humanity, work that has led to the former First Lady’s becoming “a fairly accomplished carpenter.”
This part of the center’s work is probably the best known: a five-day building schedule in Mumbai, the president said, turned into four days “because Brad Pitt showed up.”
Moderator Allan Gregg: “That’ll do it every time.”
Jimmy Carter: “And we got a whole bunch of new volunteers.”
Carter spoke about his faith (“I worship a Christ who’s the Prince of Peace, not pre-emptive war”) and about the difference between faith and fundamentalism. “Fundamentalism in religion is always a dominant man who considers himself to be superior. And the first people to be subjugated are women.”
The fundamentalist believes he has a direct connection to God, Carter went on, and so can’t admit he’s wrong.
He believes that the slow creep of fundamentalism into American politics is part of the problem with the current U.S. government.
He also said that America’s falling prestige in the world is not just a problem for Americans, it’s a global problem.
“America didn’t invent human rights, human rights invented America,” Carter said. And for that beacon to be dimmed is a loss to the world.
Asked why he doesn’t just coast on his accomplishments and earn millions on the lecture circuit, like other former presidents, Carter allowed that he was actually doing okay, financially speaking.
“Instead of putting more money in the bank, we want to make sure people in Africa have a better life.”
And Rosalynn Carter was quick to point out that they do relax sometimes.
“We’re going fly-fishing when we leave here,” she said. “Things we want to do, we just schedule them a year in advance.”