Film Review: Watchers of The Sky, How To Fight Genocide

TwitchFilm (press release)
Feb 24 2015

Review: WATCHERS OF THE SKY, How To Fight Genocide

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

Raphael. Ben. Samantha. Luis. Emmanuel. All are ordinary names for
ordinary people who have one thing in common: an extraordinary desire
to stop genocide.

As explored in Edet Belzberg’s documentary Watchers of the Sky, all
five individuals recognized that a single individual cannot stop the
systematic murder of large groups of people due to their race,
ethnicity, nationality, or religious belief. Yet they have all been
compelled to do something. And they all share the conviction that
genocide can be stopped, even as they acknowledge that it (probably)
won’t be within their lifetime.

Genocide has existed for centuries but it wasn’t defined as such until
the 20th century. The foundation was laid by Raphael Lemkin, born in
1900, who survived atrocities at a young age. Later, when he asked a
legal authority about the slaughter of more than one million Armenians
at the hands of the Ottoman Turks starting in 1915, he was told that
what the Turks did was perfectly within their legal rights because it
took place with the country’s national boundaries, as if a farmer
decided to slaughter all his chickens on his own ranch. Utterly
rejecting this notion, Lemkin made it his life course to make such
actions illegal. As the years passed, he determined that something new
was needed to make his case, and coined the word “genocide.”

Ben Ferencz served in the U.S. Army during World War II and took part
in the liberation of Nazi death camps, which left a permanent scar.
Two years later, however, he was recruited as a lawyer for the U.S.
Army because of that experience, becoming the Chief Prosecutor in the
Nuremberg Trials. He became acquainted with Lemkin and, recognizing
the power and truthfulness of the word “genocide,” used it in the
trial to define the charges against the defendants. It would be years
more before the word became accepted, however, and even longer before
it gained legal authority.

The life stories and experiences of Lemkin through to the 1950s are
weaved together with those of Ferencz and others who are active today.
Samantha Power, a new college graduate in 1992, was drawn to what was
happening in Bosnia, and reported on the atrocities committed there.
Her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem in Hell, served as
inspiration for this film. She now serves as U.S. Ambassador to the
United Nations.

Luis Moreno Ocampo was a prosecutor in the Juntas trial in Argentina
in the 1980s and in 2003 became the first Chief Prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court. The film focuses on a case he pursued
against Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, accused of genocide.
Finally, Emmanuel Uwurukundo, who saw his entire family slaughtered
during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, talks about his efforts to help
in Chad, where he is UN Refugee Agency Field Director.

Frankly, Watchers of the Sky is not an easy film to watch. Oh,
director Belzberg eases into things, with starkly animated images and
quotations from Raphael Lemkin floating across the screen. It’s a very
down-to-earth approach, keeping a balanced, calm tone as the full
realization slowly dawns. And then the cumulative weight of the
subject matter — millions and millions of dead people, children
raped, women tortured, families (literally) torn apart — becomes
nearly overwhelming.

But all is not lost, and much of that is due to the quiet courage
displayed by the interview subjects. They are not superheroes, flying
in to right the wrongs of mankind and then tucking back into bed. Nor
do they pose themselves as heroes of any kind; there is no braying and

Rather, there is the growing realization that these people know that
they are walking on a very long path. Maybe you’ll be moved to join
them; maybe not. In any event, they will keep walking and doing what
they can, for the betterment of mankind.

The film is available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms
as of Tuesday, February 24. It will also be available on DVD; bonus
features include interviews with Lemkim family members, bonus footage,
and deleted scenes. More information is available at the Music Box
Films website.

From: A. Papazian