“When you are a survivor of something like this, you have two choices. Either you come to the conclusion that life is meaningless, and for all intents and purposes, you are dead to the world, without hope,” says Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a Rwandan genocide survivor. “Or you think if I am still alive, there must be a reason for it. There must be something that I can do with my experiences to make things better.”
Watchers of the Sky, directed by American documentarian Edet Belzberg, is an inspiring documentary about genocide in the past century and four people today who are trying to ensure that it never occurs again. The accounts of four activists are linked by an exploration of the life of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer and holocaust survivor who coined the term “genocide”.
The first of the activists is Benjamin Ferencz, a Hungarian-American lawyer who served as the United State’s chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. After World War II, Ferencz began lobbying for the global recognition of war-making as a crime. He continues to lobby the United Nations and American legislators, working towards the prosecution of international criminals guilty of genocide.
Luis Moreno Ocampo served as prosecutor at the Argentinean military Junta trial in 1985. As the International Criminal Court’s first chief prosecutor, Ocampo issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president responsible for genocide in Darfur.
Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a third narrator, survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and is since dedicated to the ending global violence that killed his own family and millions of others. He operates three refugee camps in Chad for displaced Darfuri, reasoning it is the only response he can have as a survivor of genocide atrocities.
The fourth narrator, Samantha Power, first encountered genocide as a young war correspondent in Srebrenica. After witnessing the mass murder of Bosniaks, Powers began writing “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, a book that examines America’s inaction during genocide abroad. Power’s Pulitzer Prize winning book inspired the film. She now serves as the U.S. ambassador the U.N.
Watchers of the Sky looks at past and present instances of genocide and the slow but hopeful process of eliminating this atrocity from our future. This powerful film juxtaposes disparity and hope, frustration and persistence, and death and recovery. It encourages viewers to become watchers of the sky – “individuals who recognizes the moral imperative of ending cycles of violence and/or work to improve the quality of life for forgotten populations.”
This film underscores the lesson that the role of people and organizations serving a “watch dog” role is imperative to preventing genocide. The best foundation for preventing atrocity is information. The film is inspiring and encouraging, but also brutally honest. There will continue to be mass atrocities until we take interest as individuals and all become watchers of the sky.
And a critical lesson from the four narrators is that not only do we need to watch the sky but that we need to act as well. These four stories of individuals should be an inspiration and a reminder that together, we have the power to act against genocide.
Watchers of the Sky premieres in theaters on Friday, October 17, 2014 in New York and California and it will be available for sale. Interested in holding a screening for your community? Read our tips on how to host a movie screening.