Film: Watchers of the Sky
Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 7:30 PM
When most of us think back to what we were doing at age 21, few likely imagined a purpose so ambitious to affect mankind as Raphael Lemkin. Moved by the experience of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman, and later by the 1933 Simele Massacre of Assyrians in Iraq, Lemkin determined he would be the lawyer that would establish the international law defining the crime he himself would eventually coin as Genocide. The son of a Jewish family from Poland, he wasn't even aware of the dark irony of what would happen to his own family just a few years later in WWII. This story of genocide is not just a story told in black and white, of news reals now 80 years old. It is told in color from events of recent history, with news footage that many viewers will remember seeing on TV. Though the documentary doesn't state it specifically, it is a reminder that perhaps so far, the human capacity for our darkest crime has oddly increased with our accumulation of knowledge over the history of our race.
COVERAGE OF THE DOCUMENTARY: Though we begin with the obsession of Lemkin to create a word to define this crime, then to introduce the concept of a law to international forums, the film also explores many examples of genocide from the Armenians forward. It touches on many events from WWII through the Balkans, Darfur and Rwanda. We see how he presented the concept to the Legal Council of the League of Nations and was ridiculed because "it could never happen in Europe". That was 1933. I will leave the vast majority of the documentary for the viewer to discover. But let it suffice that we see how Lemkin defines the crime with the word he devises from its Latin roots and calls it Genocide. We see a bedraggled man relentless in his pursuit. From a word, to a campaign at the United nations. From resolution to convention. All the while the documentary flips in and out of infamous events. In addition to various news footage, there are many interviews with actual survivors of recent genocide. The documentary also emphasizes the complication of preventing or prosecuting such crimes.
This award-winning documentary has excellent production values and Samantha Powers is an able and animated narrator. Her own experience is very appropriate. The footage is astonishing and at times somewhat graphic (the worst is spared from the viewer though). It was interesting to actually hear and see questioning at the Nuremberg trials in old footage.
Hopefully many are lucky enough to pass away surrounded by loved ones, knowing they contributed something positive to this world. Lemkin passed away relatively alone, yet aware he likely changed the course of human kind.
Next Week: Aghet: Ein Volkermord, Thursday, April 23rd, Smith Student Union, Rm 236