Watchers Of The Sky

Art & Culture

Genocide is not a term that we associate with modern civilisation but unfortunately, in a number of locations in our world, it is still an ongoing crisis. Edet Belzberg’s 'Watchers of the Sky' examines the contemporary and historical cases involving genocide and how such inhumane acts are still in the process of becoming a genuine crime. This documentary focuses on the life and career of Raphael Lemkin; a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent and known for his work against genocide; a term he coined. Lemkin’s vision was to convince the powers that the termination of races was an international crime deserved of global punishment.

Watchers of the Sky looks in detail at various examples of genocide through recent time from the acts of Nazi occupied Germany right up to the recent troubles in Darfur. The documentary offers a number of interviews with individuals who have lived, suffered and also contributed toward these cynical acts. Belzberg discovers the difficulties endured by the various persons who would not rest until the world’s most violent offenders were prosecuted. No one tried harder and suffered more in their attempts for just that than Lemkin. After surviving the holocaust where he lost his parents, and fighting throughout the Second World War, Lemkin was determined to make ethnically motivated murder a internationally punishable crime.

Given the lack of footage and attention of Lemkin, Belzberg seeks other haunting but beautiful means of telling Lemkin’s story. Throughout we follow the subtitles of his words as they appear through a silhouette of greys and dull browns to illustrate the ominous ambiance of the matter at hand. This all down to the documentary’s outstanding animation team, who really set the tone and bring Lemkin’s words to life.

The most important word of Lemkin’s life however, is genocide. The word he labelled these appalling acts with in order to remind everyone of what it truly entailed; geno- (Greek for family/race) and –cide (Latin for killing). Lemkin as an individual suffered with numerous problems throughout his life as he tried to change the lives of millions. At times he struggled for food, was desperately poor and generally struggled with health issues. After losing his parents in the Nazi camps, it is a mystery why he is only now retrospectively appreciated. After being nominated seven times for a Nobel Peace Prize, he never won. But this is not to suggest his efforts were ignored.

Throughout Watchers of the Sky, we also follow the stories of four individuals following on from where Lemkin left off after his death in 1959. Samantha Power, who also offers a voice over for much of the documentary, is a US ambassador to the UN, managing foreign policy toward global genocide. Ben Ferencz, who knew Lemkin, served for the US army during the Second World War and remains active in US politics at the age of 90. Emmanuel Uwurukundo survived genocide in Rwanda during the 90s and is currently overseeing similar issues currently undergoing in Darfur. Finally, we follow Luis Moreno-Campo, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court attempting to implement Lemkin’s philosophy.

It’s incredible how Watchers of the Sky manages to maintain its political application on such a daunting issue rather than pulling at the heartstrings of its audience. Its facts, interviews and archive footage are gelled impressively with the melancholy texture of Lemkin’s on screen voice and the graphics that accompany. This in particular helped the documentary win the Editing Award and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, but hopefully the film appeals to those who may one day make a monumental breakthrough in human civilisation.

Ross Webber

Catch DocHouse's screening of Watchers Of The Sky on Thursday 26th June – click here for tickets and more information. If you use the code 'DocHouse offer' you can get your ticket for just £7 instead of £10.