Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First Public Showing of the 'Blood Diamond' Movie



A sneak preview of the film, "Blood Diamond," was shown in select movie theaters Saturday night. I attended one of the screenings in Philadelphia. "Blood Diamond," as a movie, should gain a great deal of attention based on its storytelling, strong performances, and its brutal depiction of civil war in Sierra Leone. However, it's unclear whether the film will deter people from buying diamond jewelry or even make them more conscientious shoppers. The movie opens nationwide on Friday.

Brian Lowry of Variety—one of the few, if only, reviews at this time—says the movie produced mixed results. Most of the reviews among the movie buffs on the Internet Movie Database message boards who saw the screening are also mixed, ranging from "This film blew me away," to "utterly cliche movie making." Several posters had a debate over the authenticity of Leonardo DiCaprio's accent. One thread criticizing De Beers was started.

De Beers and others in the diamond industry have expressed concern that the film would reduce the public demand for diamonds. Early on, the film uses nongovernmental group Global Witness figures that conflict diamonds account for 15 percent of the diamond trade. De Beers and the diamond trade strongly dispute that figure, saying that the illicit trade of diamonds actually accounted for 4 percent of all diamond purchases and has since been reduced to 1 percent.

De Beers maybe should have been more concerned about its own portrayal in the movie. In a film filled with violent murderers and thugs, the fictitious Van Der Kemp company (correctly name and spelling to come) comes off as one of the most criminal. It is portrayed as a company that knowingly and willingly deals in conflict diamonds.

De Beers isn't alone in taking lumps. In at least four segments of the movie the entire diamond chain, including the U.S. consumer, is chastised for their part in the trading and purchasing of conflict diamonds illegally mined from Sierra Leone. One scene was particularly poignant. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a fisherman who was forcefully taken from his family by the Revolutionary United Front rebels to work in the diamond mines, winds up in London where he is seen looking at a window display of a diamond necklace.

A statement at the end of the film acknowledges the Kimberley Process while urging consumers to know a diamond's country of origin before purchasing.

In my opinion, the entity that receives the most criticism is the African continent. Danny Archer (DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary who turns to smuggling guns and diamonds for a living, uses the initials "TIA" ("This is Africa") when confronted by journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) about his role in profiting from the civil war and the death and suffering of innocents.

The TIA phrase is repeated by a person known in the film known as "The Colonel," a mercenary and Archer's mentor who sold guns to the RUF, the rebel group battling the Sierra Leone government while committing mass human rights abuses against the civilian population. The Colonel is later hired by the Sierra Leone government to kill those same rebels he traded guns with.

It is noted at least twice in the film that if wasn't illicitly traded diamonds being used to finance the civil war it would be another natural resource. And that violence (whether it by white Europeans or black Africans) and mass stealing of natural resources is a practice that goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

In one scene, the Colonel tells Archer that the dirt of Africa is red with the stain of blood from the battles over the land. He adds, "You'll never leave Africa."

With several moral messages, including the way illegal diamonds make it into the diamond pipeline, how those diamonds finance terror, and the history of violence in Africa, the movie covers a lot of ground. Yet it does stay focused on its core story: The discovery of a diamond, and how that discovery affects a group of desperate people whose lives couldn't be more different.

The movie is set in Sierra Leone in 1999. the RUF is gaining power and is seeking to take full control of the country. While working in the mine as an RUF prisoner, Vandy discovers the diamond (estimated at 100 cts.) and hides it in the jungle. He is seen by Captain Poison, a vicious RUF commander. Before he has a chance to remove the diamond from Vandy (and no doubt kill him), government forces attack the mine and both are thrown in jail. Archer (who was caught smuggling diamonds) is in the same jail where he learns of the unusually large diamond.

Vandy sees the diamond as a way to get back his family. His wife and daughter are in a refugee camp. His son, Dia, is facing a far worse fate as he has been captured by the RUF and turned into a child warrior. Archer sees the diamond as a way out of Africa. So does Captain Poison. Bowen sees the diamond as a way to connect the dots so she can write her story about how diamonds are smuggled from Sierra Leone into nearby Liberia, and then moved into the legal diamond pipeline. The Colonel is looking to make a profit.

The movie earns its R rating with horrific scenes of violence, including the mass murders of unarmed civilians, the hacking of limbs with machetes, and terrifying, up-close war scenes. The RUF is shown taking children hostage—and by using equal doses of drugs, alcohol, propaganda, and fear—turn these youngsters into killing machines. In one scene, the children are shown taking over the city of Freeport by gunning down unarmed civilians in their houses and on the streets, throwing them from the upper floors of buildings, and staging all-out warfare against government soldiers. The soldiers are beaten and those who surrender are lined up and gunned down in cold blood. The children then celebrate their victory as the city burns.

These brutal scenes run side-by-side with beautiful images of the African countryside, children at a school mending their physical and emotional wounds, and moving portrayals of people in refugee camps. The movie is well over two hours. Its story is told through the human suffering of its main characters and the millions of innocents caught up in the conflict. It covers a lot of ground. One of its messages is geared toward consumers. The question is, will the message get through?

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