Edet Belzberg's excellent 'Watchers' tells a horrible tale

Posted11/6/2014 5:45 AM

Mini-review: 'Watchers of the Sky'

Anyone possessed with even a fleeting sense of social justice should be amazed and appalled by what he/she sees and learns in Edet Belzberg's "Watchers of the Sky."


Belzberg's excellent, well-told doc chronicles nothing less than humanity's consistent urge to wage genocide around the globe every few years and wipe out groups through ethic cleansing, final solutions and other catchy phrases masking the horror of mass killings.

Mostly, Belzberg's doc profiles the career of lawyer-turned-human-rights advocate Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish survivor of barbarity who went on to coin the term "genocide" (combing Greek and Latin words) to give a name to what happened to the Armenians in 1915 Turkey and the Assyrians in 1933 Iraq, and to the Jews in 1930s and '40s Germany.

Lemkin could not persuade his parents to flee Germany; both died in concentration camps. He spent his life in relative poverty while tirelessly campaigning to make genocide an international crime through the United Nations.

Through interviews with other witnesses -- a survivor of Rwanda's ethic machete massacres, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and a journalist-turned-U.S.-ambassdor to the U.N. -- "Watchers of the Sky" delivers harrowing testimony that fires up the human cry for action and justice in the global community.

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This is no dry history lesson or freaked-out call for alarm, but a measured, keenly edited masterwork of historic journalism whittled down from 800 hours of raw footage that took the filmmakers the better part of a decade to finish.

"Watchers of the Sky" complements its contemporary and archival footage with fluid, watercolor-styled animation that dresses up Lemkin's prolific handwritten notes containing the wisdom of a prophet mostly ignored during his life.

Lemkin never won the Nobel Peace Prize, despite being nominated several times. At his funeral in 1959, only seven people attended.

"Watchers of the Sky" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated PG-13 for violence. 90 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out! Follow him on Twitter at @DannGireDHFilm.

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