I was meant to see this film. A part of me wishes that I hadn’t, because then I would have been spared the two hours of tears, but the bigger, more important part of me knows that I was supposed to see this film. It spurred something deep within me, and as the credits rolled, I knew that I would never be the same. That’s the power of film, and it’s the reason why I love documentary films in particular. I’ll be forever grateful to the Sundance Film Festival for its unfailing support for documentary filmmaking, because their support is the reason I get to see films like Watchers of the Sky, by Edet Belzberg. Incredibly amazing films that have the potential to change the world.
Watchers of the Sky tells the story of Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the word “genocide”. Lemkin believed that by giving a name to the mass atrocities that have been committed against entire populations throughout history, then the law could use that term to hold people accountable for their actions. Lemkin believed in a world where international law could combat crimes against humanity, and he lobbied the United Nations to make genocide a punishable offence. Lemkin’s tireless work laid the foundation for the International Criminal Court, and his persistence brought considerable attention to the issue. Despite his relentless efforts and many recognitions, Lemkin’s story has been largely forgotten today, and at the time of his death from a heart attack in 1959, a mere seven people attended his funeral.
Lemkin’s story was interwoven throughout the film with the stories of four incredible campaigners in the struggle against genocide and the cycle of violence throughout the decades. These advocates include Benjamin Ferencz, a human rights lawyer who has lobbied for 60 years to make war-making a crime against humanity, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the first Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who now runs three of the largest refugee camps in Eastern Chad, and Samantha Power, a US Representative to the United Nations, and whose book A Problem From Hell inspired this film. All four are extraordinarily remarkable individuals who spend their lives advocating to outlaw genocide and hold those responsible accountable.
It is hard to watch this film and not feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the stories of those on screen and the history of genocide. From the past 100 years alone there is a long list of brutal crimes to account for, and it is easy to become complacent and wonder what sort of a difference just one person can make. However, despite being overwhelmed by emotion and the weight of history, Watchers of the Sky is also incredibly inspiring, because it offers hope that one person can in fact make quite the difference. As the website for this film states, a Watcher of the Sky is “An individual who recognizes the moral imperative of ending cycles of violence &/or works to improve the quality of life for forgotten populations.” Anyone and everyone can help put a stop to these crimes, because when they are committed, they destroy the very foundations of what makes us all human. I may not know exactly what I’m going to do just yet, but this film has moved within me something very powerful, and I cannot sit back in apathy any longer. I will join the cause, I will raise my voice, and I will become a Watcher of the Sky.