2014 Sundance Docs in Focus: WATCHERS OF THE SKY

watchers of skyThe sixteenth and final film in this year’s US Documentary Competition sees the return of a two-time Sundance alum: Edet Belzberg’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY, a far-ranging exploration of the world’s response to genocide.

Sundance Program Description:

“Love despite difference and, rather, because of difference,” wrote Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew born in 1900, who saw and could not abide the universal human capacity to perpetrate unimaginable harms against “the other.” As a young lawyer galvanized by the extermination of the Armenians, he invented the term “genocide,” which became an indispensable instrument for mobilizing international law to address such crimes, laying the groundwork for the Nuremberg trials and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

WATCHERS OF THE SKY links Lemkin’s forgotten legacy with four visionary humanitarians: Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.; Luis Moreno Ocampo, ICC chief prosecutor; Benjamin Ferencz, Nuremberg prosecutor; and Emmanuel Uwurukundo, U.N. refugee officer. As all of them struggle to prevent future atrocities, their urgent trajectories intertwine with Lemkin’s.

Aesthetically imaginative and intellectually rigorous, Edet Belzberg’s lyrical film illuminates the power of one word and one man’s determination. At the same time, it reveals how the persistence and magnitude of genocide require a tribe of warriors banding together over generations and continents to build a temple to the law.

Some Background:
Belzberg’s debut, CHILDREN UNDERGROUND, premiered at Sundance in 2001, where it picked up a special doc jury prize and went on to be nominated for an Oscar. She returned in 2008 with THE RECRUITER, and has also received support for her latest project from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Joining her as producers are investment banker/humanitarian Kerry Propper; Amelia Green-Dove, who served as associate producer on THE RECRUITER; and co-producer/editor Karen Sim, who is also a Sundance alum in the same roles for Liz Garbus’ SHOUTING FIRE: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF FREE SPEECH (2009). Among the film’s executive producers are Impact Partners’ Dan Cogan, whose Sundance credits include fellow 2014 title WEB JUNKIE as well as past titles AMERICAN PROMISE (2013), THE CRASH REEL (2013), PANDORA’S PROMISE (2013), WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? (2013), HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012), DETROPIA (2012), THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012), HELL AND BACK AGAIN (2011), FAMILY AFFAIR (2010), SECRETS OF THE TRIBE (2010), NO IMPACT MAN (2009), and THE RECRUITER; and Stanley F Buchtal, who produced Sundance alums BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (2011) and JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD (2010) and executive produced alums MARINA ABRAMOVIC THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2012) and SPANKING THE MONKEY (1994), among several other notable films like HERB & DOROTHY and the original HAIRSPRAY. In addition to Sim, the project counts Jenny Golden as editor, a Sundance alum as an editor of Jason Kohn’s MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) (2007). Finally, among the film’s cinematographers are Sam Cullman, three-time Sundance alum as producer/DP of THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (2012), director/producer/cinematographer for IF A TREE FALLS (2011), and cinematographer of THE RECRUITER; and Jerry Risius, whose Sundance cinematography credits include THE LAST MOUNTAIN (2011) and THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (2007).

Why You Should Watch:
Using Lemkin’s inspiring example as a thread connecting the past with the present, Belzberg shows how his dogged determination to have the world address crimes against humanity – despite entrenched resistance – has led to larger, coordinated, institutional efforts in the decades since his death to try to ensure that perpetrators of genocide can no longer operate with impunity. If Lemkin’s mission was at times Sisyphean, he nevertheless had an impact, demonstrating that if enough individuals follow his lead to serve the greater good in even a small way, we can all take personal responsibility for making the world of the future better.

More Info:
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page and website. Check out Belzberg’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile. As it becomes available, I’ll also link to her Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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