The documentary film, Darfur Diaries: Message from Home, begins with an animated sequence taken from pictures drawn by the refugee children of burned-out villages in Darfur, the warring western region in the African country of Sudan.

The pictures of men on horseback with machetes, and bombs being dropped from planes are the vivid memories of children whose country has been ravaged by Sudanese, government-sponsored militias.

The roughly hour-long film was screened Monday at Oak Park and River Forest High School, culminating the school’s two-week campaign to raise funds for the victims of the 3-year-old Darfur conflict.

OPRF students, who organized Monday morning’s rally with guest speakers and the afternoon screening, raised $3,500 by selling T-shirts and flowers on campus last week. The money will go directly to help provide books and other materials for displaced Sudanese children.

“This has been a really student-driven event,” said OPRF psychology teacher Yeni Hart, whose students helped organize the event with two other classes. “We completely underestimated how much money we were going to raise. We didn’t know that as the students branched out, there would be this type of passion and momentum.”

More than 2 million Darfur inhabitants have been displaced since the start of the conflict. Nearly 400,000 have died, with thousands of villages burned or destroyed. Most American news accounts have portrayed the conflict as one between Africans and Arabs.

Jen Marlowe, one of the filmmakers of Darfur Diaries, said those accounts are based on false information from the Darfur government, which has provided weapons to the Arab Janjaweed militia to wipe out the Africans.

“This is a genocidal campaign by the government against its own people,” said Marlowe, who appeared at the OPRF screening in the school’s Little Theater.

Marlowe, along with fellow filmmakers, Aisha Bain and Adam Shapiro, filmed in the Darfur regions in October and November 2004. They interviewed dozens of refugees, including children. The film’s opening animated sequence was taken from the pictures drawn by children.

The filmmakers allowed the victims of the conflict to speak for themselves, telling accounts of their homes being burned, and of Janjaweed soldiers on horseback killing men, women and children.

The filmmakers also talked to many volunteers and experts, though none of them appeared in the film. Marlowe said the filmmakers wanted to focus on the people of Darfur and their personal stories.

“We wanted the Darfurians to speak for themselves, about themselves,” she said. “We felt a tremendous responsibility to share the stories the people told us, and we wanted to preserve the dignity of the people.”

In all, the filmmakers shot more than 45 hours of footage. Monday was only the second showing of the film in the Chicago area, said Marlowe.

OPRF history teacher, Matt Maloney, whose students have been studying 20th century genocide, joined with Yeni’s class to raise awareness and money for Darfurian refugees. He said the film leaves a strong impact.

“Just going through the refugee camp and seeing what the people of Darfur had to endure made me just want to take more action in educating the community,” he said.

“I feel that we were so lucky to have Jen here and the screening of her film,” said Amy Bender, a history teacher at OPRF, whose students helped coordinate the event. “Seeing that unbiased commentary from the people there in Darfur will make all the difference in the world.”

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