Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving at Home, Christmas in Darfur

Judging by the newly arrived d├ęcor I am seeing in storefronts, the holiday season is evidently upon us once again. As you already know, two friends and I are going to spend our holiday in Chad to film footage for a documentary (Christmas in Darfur), capture the feel of conditions on the ground, and interview the extraordinary people who have given and risked so much to lend a hand in a portion of the world that needs all the help it can get. I would like to thank those who have already contributed for their help and generosity in getting us started towards our goals.

Our estimated budget for this project will run to a respectable heap of cash, and we’ve been successful in scraping, begging, and borrowing enough to cover airfare and our basic film equipment. This does, however, leave us at something of a disadvantage with respect to providing the remainder of the gear we’ll need to do this both competently and safely, not to mention funds we'll need on the ground.

So, I would like to ask for you or anybody you know to lending a helping hand. The main problem we’re facing is uncertainty. If we were certain that this was suicidally stupid, we wouldn’t be going. If we were certain there was no risk, we wouldn’t be asking for help. But one can hedge against uncertaintiy in risk through insurance, liquidity, preparedness, equipment, and all of these cost money.

You can show your support to the great and noble cause of my personal safety by clicking the PayPal button to the right of the page. But in general, any way you can help us will be most appreciated. If you possess a quarter million frequent flier miles that need to be used by the end of the year, then we can devote our resources to basic equipment and tools of the trade.

So, All I Want For Christmas - in Darfur...


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do they know it's Christmas? Do they actually care if it's Christmas? Aren't they Muslim anyways?

Basically, if you were one of the poor, benighted folks of the world and busy choosing between starvation and being shot, 1984 was a very good year. You all remember the massive Live Aid promotion with "Do they know it's Christmas" coming out in 1984 raising a whole raft of cash for Ethiopian famine relief.

Unfortunately, in the intervening 22 years, the marketing viability for dying brown people has plummeted...

Donor fatigue and disaster oversaturation has set in, in a very big way, numbing the public. And after Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, governments are either overcommitted, or governments have realized that there is absolutely zero percentage for them in stepping in to try to stop the bloodshed. They catch hell domestically ("No Blood For Oil!", “Wag the Dog!”) or get pictures of the corpses of 19-year-old kids getting dragged through the street. Or even if, against all odds, they manage to put a stop to the bloodshed they don't get a damn bit of credit for doing so.

What this means is that the marginal value of each life has effectively dropped to zero. Kill 5 people, kill 500, kill 500,000 - it makes no difference - each added fatality has absolutely no policy impact and won't change the situation one iota. It's not that there roughly 500,000 (essentially an entire Seattle) have died in Darfur. The horrific thing is that they could kill another 500,000 and nobody will bat an eyelash.

So, how can the dead of Darfur compete with dead soldiers, Afghanis, and Iraqis for media coverage? Well, one thing that has changed a lot since 1984 is the advent of the internet, viral marketing, and meme propagation – the entire dynamic of word-of-mouth propagation.

Two of my friends and I are going to Darfur this Christmas (http://www.christmasindarfur.org/) in order to shoot a film. Since people aren't going to respond to Yet Another Tear-Jerking Movie about how terrible things are, we're going to try to connect to the audience by interviewing the people from the US and Europe - folks like you and me and your cousin and your uncle and your sister - who have volunteered for little or no cash to go spend their Christmas away from their families in the middle of some hellhole trying to stem the tide of genocide.

Now, to think that a single film is going to have some sort of world-changing impact is, frankly, absolutely delusional. However, we hope to make use of the new dynamics of media to make something that will help return the spotlight to Darfur, and give those concerned something to nucleate around. But, if you recall the flooding of the Mississippi some 10 years ago, or more recently 9/11, and Katrina, and all the people who dropped everything they were doing, to go help, it's those countless, nameless individuals who all chipped in to make a difference. And it's those people we want to reach.

So, in any case, we've begged, borrowed, and scraped together enough cash to go, and we're committed to the trip. However, fighting has started to intensify a bit and is spreading into Chad. War zones are ruinously expensive. Furthermore, they don't take plastic. So, what that means is that while we can actually get there, the proposition of getting enough security to arrive in a war zone with a lot of camera equipment and cash on hand is going to be an expensive and risky proposition. We are trying to raise enough to move this whole project from the realm of suicidially stupid over to regular, plain old risky. Think of it like raising money for body armor for troops in Iraq, rather than going to the Eastern Congo for birdwatching.

We're going, and being the selfish bastard I am, not only do I want to make the experience gunshot-wound free, I would also like to make it back with all of our kit and equipment. We've gotten a lot of support from people have volunteered to do all of the time-consuming and costly editing, production, post-production, sound, and all of that good stuff to take footage and turn it into a movie. Now we just need to go get the footage.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Go to the site. Post it. Link it. Pass it on.

And if you can, please help.