Raphael Lemkin is the man who created the word “genocide” and believed law could end history's cycle of mass atrocities. Edet Belzberg's Watchers of the Sky explores the life of Lemkin through archival footage, interviews, vérité footage, and even animation to not only depict mass atrocity but also the people who serve to bring about justice. Belzberg reflected on her initial interest in Lemkin, his legacy, and the process of expressing activism through film. Watchers of the Sky screens on June 19 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, followed by a discussion with Belzberg.

FilmLinc asked the directors included in the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival to give some insight on filmmaking and tackling issue-oriented work prior to the launch of the series.

Watchers of the Sky

Edet Belzberg, USA, 2014, 114m

Responses by Belzberg:

On those who work to stop genocide:

When I first read Samantha Power's book A Problem From Hell I was fascinated by the life and work of Raphael Lemkin. He not only invented the very word “genocide” but he also almost single-handedly convinced the UN to pass the Genocide Convention. While my film is about genocide on its surface, it really is better described as being about the individuals who work to stop genocide. Who are they? Why do they do the work they do? Faced with disheartening odds, what keeps them going?

On film's role in activism:

A film is only effective as activism if it doesn't lose sight of itself as a film. First and foremost film needs to be about powerful storytelling. If it can succeed as a film on its own, then it can also succeed as a tool for activists to use to raise awareness, garner support, or help a movement gain momentum. But if a film just sees itself as a tool for activism it often fails as both a tool and a film.

On working with different types of footage:

The structure of this film was hard to crack. It weaves together Raphael Lemkin's story with modern characters who are continuing his work today. It mixes interviews and cinema-vérité-style footage with animation and archival materials. It brings all of these stories and elements together into one cohesive and powerful film was challenging!

On hope for audience takeaway:

[I want the audience] to leave the film with hope: hope for the future and belief in our ability, as humans, to tackle all the challenges the world presents. As Raphael Lemkin says, we must “shorten the distance between the heart and the deed [and] to live an idea, not only to talk about it or feel it.”