'The Uncondemned': Film Review

Courtesy of Abramorama
Powerfully brings to light a little-known aspect of the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Nick Louvel and Michele Mitchell's documentary recounts the story of the landmark legal case that resulted in the prosecution of rape as a war crime for the first time.

The dignified faces of the female testifiers provide the most deeply moving element of Nick Louvel and Michele Mitchell's documentary about a little-known aspect of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Recounting the story of the indefatigable legal team that made history by successfully prosecuting a case involving rape as a war crime, The Uncondemned is a valuable addition to the cinematic history of the horrific events.

The case, which took place in 1997, involved a young legal team including lawyers Sara Darehshori and Pierre-Richard Prosper, the latter experienced in prosecuting gang-related crimes in Los Angeles. Members of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, they pursued a case against Jean-Paul Akayesu, a Rwandan mayor, for his role in supporting the rapes and in some cases ordering them to be committed during the massacre three years earlier that resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 Tutsis. Ironically, rape had been listed as an international war crime since 1919, but it had never before been specifically prosecuted.

In order to deal with the traumatized victims who were reluctant to speak about the horrors inflicted on them, the lawyers were joined by Patricia Sellers, a "legal advisor for gender," and Lisa Pruitt, a "gender consultant," who advised them how to deal with the prospective witnesses.

Comprised largely of talking-head interviews with the legal team and three women who testified about what had happened to them, the film details how the young lawyers had to deal with limited resources to fight the case which resulted in a landmark ruling — at one point, they literally had to scrounge for paper. One of the major problems facing them was that many of the victims were reluctant to step forward because of fear of retribution.  

Three women who testified at the trial are seen in the film, and their interviews provide a harrowing humanistic element to the proceedings. When one of them recounts how she was told by one of her abusers, "We're going to leave you alive so you can die of sadness," it says volumes more than even the most frightening statistics.

Distributor: Abramorama
Production company: Film at Eleven
Directors: Nick Louvel, Michele Mitchell
Screenwriter-producer-executive producer: Michele Mitchell
Director of photography-editor: Nick Louvel
Composer: Nicholas Britell

Not rated, 81 minutes