Film Review: Watchers of the Sky (2014)
As an aficionado of documentary films, it makes me truly grateful to see films of such importance which are really brilliantly made and therefore all the more impactful. This is one of those films - beautifully-realized and profoundly powerful. Based on the book written by Samantha Powers called A Problem from Hell, in which she examines the issues which drove her protagonist, Raphael Lemkin to devote his whole life to making the world recognize and understand genocide as a crime which required its own legal standing in the international community in order that those responsible could be prosecuted for mass murders. The film follows the trajectory of Lemkin’s life as a studious young boy in the thrall of world history and the actions of populations towards other human beings. Born in 1900 in a Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth he suffered the plight of the refugee during WWI and saw most of his family die during WWII. It was then that he found his calling as a dedicated crusader on a mission to change the way the world in general and the UN in particular handle the killings of millions based on religion or ethnicity. He coined the term genocide. And, once he had named it he never stopped working to try to end it. He asked the question: “Why is the massacre of hundreds a lesser crime than the murder of a single person?” He believed that laws should bind humanity to prevent crimes. His story is remarkable and inspiring and his efforts led to the creation of the International Criminal Court, which prosecuted the Nuremberg Trials.
The other protagonists are equally remarkable and passionately dedicated to human rights. Samantha Powers, our UN Ambassador, author and tireless fighter for justice speaks eloquently and with great authority about many troubling situations around the globe and makes a very persuasive case that much more needs to be done. Luis Moreno Ocamps from Argentina was a chief prosecutor in the ICC. He tried and convicted several high officials of the military juntas responsible for atrocious and disappearances in his country. Emmanuelle Uruwukundo, a Rwandan who survived the terrible ethnic cleansing in his country and lost his entire family. He has dedicated his life to helping the refugees in Chad as the UN Refugee Director. Ben Ferencz, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials continues to lobby the UN for peace. The words of these charismatic advocates are interwoven with the story of Raphael Lemkin and create a case for hope.
There is a dreamlike quality in the interstices between the archival footage and the interviews with the four living characters. There are delicately inked graphics and script which appears as if by an invisible hand only to fade out mysteriously. A perfectly calibrated score cocoons the brutalities with which the film is concerned in such a way that you cannot turn away from them. Yet they do not assault the viewer. Somehow, one is seduced by the lucidity of the words and it is impossible to doubt their veracity.
Many things are called into question and how anyone knowing the facts, as presented, could fail to respond to what are clearly horrific injustices. And it makes one wonder what it is that makes the difference between these amazing people and the rest of us. What drives those who oppose such convulsive occurrences is as is as fascinating as what drives humanity into these frenzied primitive behaviors. What is it that causes some people to succumb to blind hatred and mindless brutality. This is the question that Lemkin asks. It is the situation from Hell that Samantha Powers is driven to correct by exposing it to the world so that it will not be tolerated or worse yet, go unpunished.