Watchers of the Sky: Sundance Review

An exhaustive, complex look at genocide with a sobering and historically predictable prognosis. 

Filmmaker Edet Belzberg's documentary chronicles the history of genocide.

PARK CITY – The word “genocide” was not conceived until 1944, but this challenging documentary traces the history of such abominable dictatorial and national atrocities.

In this intricate and painstakingly assembled documentary, filmmaker Edet Belzberg tributes the life of Raphael Lemkin, who invented the term “genocide.” Unimposing but tenacious, Lemkin dedicated his life to making such mass murders categorized as an international crime.

Intercutting between Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda and other denizens of horror, the film details the usual reasons for such mass murder: “ethnic cleansing” or religious difference. The footage is haunting and powerful: In Turkey, the massacre of the Armenians; in Europe, the Nazis kill millions in concentration camps; in Rwanda, machete-wielding Hutus mow down their Tutsi countrymen.    

Inventively connecting the various genocides with a spare and succinct animation, the film is a complex weave of interviews, historical footage and up-to-date news footage, most prominently the ongoing slaughter in the Darfur section of the Sudan. Most appalling, this genocide is unabated by a disapproving but impotent national community. As his Sudanese soldiers and Janjaweed marauders wipe out the “vermin,” Sudan’s ego-maniacal president, Omar al-Bashir, taunts the world. Although the United Nationals established an international court in The Hague (thanks to Lemkin’s relentless work), the court is powerless to bring him to trial for genocide since there is no mechanism for enforcing its decision-making.    

Sad and disturbing, this smartly and conscientiously crafted film is a powerful wake-up call, heard but not yet implemented, by the “civilized” world.

Production companies: Propeller Films, The Unofficial Man

Director: Edet Belzberg

Producers: Edet Belzberg, Amelia Green-Dove, Kerry Propper

Directors of photography: Edet Belzberg, Sam Cullman, Mai Iskander, Martina Radwan, Bob Richman, Jerry Risius, Nelson Walker III

Music: Claudio Ragazzi

Editors: Jenny Golden, Karen K. H. Sim

No rating, 120 minutes

No rating