Winner of an editing award at Sundance, the years-in-the-making, elegant essay film Watchers of the Sky takes on a vast subject – genocide over the past century – and manages to be not just coherent but poetically moving.
The initial focus is on Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who fled the Nazis to the United States, coined the term genocide to describe the deliberate destruction of an ethnic or national group, and pressed the international community to prosecute the crime.
Edet Belzberg's film then looks at four people who are carrying on his legacy: Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who oversees camps for refugees from Darfur; Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; Benjamin Ferencz, a former Nuremberg prosecutor, now in his 90s, who is still campaigning to have wars of aggression declared a crime; and Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN who first became famous as a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia.
Between the newsreel footage of contemporary atrocities and the talking-heads interviews, the life of Lemkin is illustrated in monochrome watercolour animation. The title comes from prosecutor Ferencz, who compares his work to that of the 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe, who said he watched the sky so future generations could use him as their foundation.