Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Your diamonds are forever but are they conflict free
It is 1999 in Sierra Leone. The country is in the midst of a horrific civil war with the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front or RUF fighting the government forces. Ruthless and brutal, the RUF sweep the countryside looting, killing and hacking off limbs.
In a quiet village in Sierra Leone, it is early dawn. Fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is up and getting ready to send his son Dia, off to school. A school means an education that could help Dia live a life of comfort and dignity. Already Solomon has dreams for Dia. He wants Dia to grow up to be a doctor.

These dreams are soon shattered as their village becomes the target of an RUF attack. Young boys and men are either killed, maimed or captured. Although lucky to be alive, those captured must either fight with the RUF or work on diamond fields, panning diamonds from water. These diamonds are the sold to buy weapons to fight the the civil war.

Danny Archer (Leonardo Di Caprio) is a white Rhodesian turned South African, involved in diamond smuggling and arms dealing. He is in cahoots with the Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo), an army bigwig who while running army operations as a peacekeeper is also intricately linked to the arms-diamond trade.

Solomon and Archer come together in their quest for a pink diamond which Solomon accidently stumbles upon while panning the water. For Solomon, the diamond is a means to save his wife and children including Dia who now works as a soldier for the RUF; while for Archer it is his passport out of Africa.

There is also the journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) who want to expose the nexus between the armed struggle and diamond merchants in Europe and show the world how conflict diamonds are fuelling civil wars in Africa. With her help, Solomon and Archer, undertake a journey to find their stone.

Although a well made film, Director Edward Zwick has, in parts reached the zenith of melodrama. When the Archer-Solomon duo along with Dia are about to escape in a helicopter after finding the diamond, Zwick milks the wounded Archer for some sentimental moments. If this seems too out of place, wait till you see Archer gasping like an asthmatic patient after (more spoilers!!!) being shot and waiting to die and then spouting all those softie dialogues on a phone to Maddy (he carried a satellite phone in case you were wondering and he remembered Maddy's cell by heart...he did have her card but by this time it was so soaked in his blood that one doubts if anything was legible there!!). Such words which might have been very appropriate in a romantic Titanic like setting seem totally contrived in the dog eat dog world of blood and gore of Sierra Leone.

Also the distribution of violence at regular intervals throughout the film, didn't seem relevant to the narrative. If it was meant to keep the story from slacking and to convey a feeling of fast pace that could easily have been achieved by a bit of tight editing. However a good film and a good message, overall.

Here's more on the conflict diamonds:

A long running war in Sierra Leone finally came to an end in the first months of 2002 as the UN, British armed forces, and government troops edged clashing factions towards a peace agreement. The UN supervised rebel disarmament were held in May 2002. Rebels line up to surrender weapons.

Members of former rival factions, now doing military service together, relax at Bemgeuma training camp

A boy sifts for diamonds. The struggle for control of diamond mining and other natural resources was a source of conflict.
(Above pics are from World Press Photo 2003: Photographer Jan Dago, Denmark, Magnum photos/Alexia Foundation for World Peace)

Many of the prisoner-laborers who work Sierra Leone's open-pit mines end up in shallow graves, executed for suspected theft, for lack of production, or simply for sport. (© Jean-Claude Coutausse/ CONTACT Press Images)

According to Amnesty International only 11% of the diamonds that reach US markets are conflict free. So what can the consumer do? Next time, when you seek a diamond for its Carat, Cut, Clarity and Color, also look for the 5th C. Check if it's Conflict free.


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