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Shattered Sudan: South Sudan comes undone

February, 2014
“There is no humanity here,” is how Colonel Jan Hoff describes Malakal today. The photographs that accompany the APs report “Scenes of Death in South Sudan: ‘No Humanity Here’,” about the most recent brutal killings in and around Malakal, include one of a dead man’s bloated body in a room at the Malakal Teaching Hospital. I recognize the room by the pictures hanging on the walls. It is the room in the maternity ward where new mothers would go to get help with breastfeeding from the hospital’s midwives.

In 2008 the hospital’s chief surgeon, Dr. Mamoun Omer, had taken me on a tour of the hospital.

You can see part of my visit with Dr. Mamoun at the hospital in the trailer of my documentary “Shattered Sudan” dating from 2009. Even then security and living conditions in Malakal were tenuous at best, but there was life on the streets, local elections were taking place in which women got to vote for the first time, and the Southern Sudanese were taking a census in preparation for national elections. There was a vague sense of looking forward to a brighter future, free from violence, hunger, and need.

Background to my documentary film project on Sudan:
I began working on my doc film “Shattered Sudan” in 2006. It was at the height of the Save Darfur movement here in the US as American activism to end the violence in Darfur culminated with a rally on the Nation’s Mall in Washington D.C. in April, 2006.

It was the first time in history that a social movement developed in response to an ongoing genocide, and the crowd there on the Mall that day felt empowered and hopeful that their efforts would bring results.

But over the course of the summer and fall, events in and revolving around Sudan began to overshadow that idealism. And so we began to witness how that conviction and that idealism were pitted against the growing realization that there were geo-political and economic forces at play in Sudan’s complex story that would prove to be the country’s making or its undoing.

Eight years later from that beautiful spring day in Washington D.C., and little more than 2 years after the birth of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, we see South Sudan descend into brutal violence, pitting one ethnic group against another, apparently for political – and economic – purposes.

Malakal, the capital of South Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile region, has seen some of the worst fighting. The French medical organization Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) reported that Malakal’s teaching hospital, where MSF runs a clinic, was attacked by rebels who shot patients dead in their hospital beds, and looted and burned the facilities.

In 2008 I spent three weeks in Malakal, living with a local family. I spent an afternoon at the Malakal Teaching Hospital with the hospital’s chief surgeon, Dr. Mamoun Omer.

More on Sudan:
The section on Sudan features the trailer of the doc film project, an explanation of where I intend to take the story, along with articles giving background as well as looking forward to what is to come. There are outtakes of poignant moments in the video interviews, and some of my more personal reflections accompanied by b-roll footage to give a sense of place – the stunning imagery and natural beauty juxtaposed with profound suffering. “Why does no-one shout? Why don’t they appear to be angry”, my father asked when I first showed him the footage. I think with such suffering – hunger and thirst, disease, and fear – the suffering is silent. That is what I came away with the most – the singing at all hours of the day and night to accompany those who have the strength to carry-out their daily chores and work and play, in opposition to the stillness of those who are too weak to cry out.