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Watchers Of The Sky interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, Watchers Of The Sky takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action. Informed London talks to Director Edet Belzberg about the film.
1. What inspired you to create such a thought provoking film based around the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin?
When I read Samantha Power’s book, “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” I was immediately struck by Raphael Lemkin’s story. I knew I had to find a way to make a film about him.
2. What is it about genocide and the cycle of violence, which made you want to create the documentary?
It was less that I wanted to make a film about genocide and more that I wanted to tell Raphael Lemkin’s story. And, in telling Lemkin’s story, and the stories of people who continue his work today, I found myself not only looking at genocide but also at what happens around genocides. Examining the cycle of violence and also the refugee crisis that follow.
3. What is a Watcher of the Sky?
We have a definition on our website, which we use as part of our educational outreach work, that you can check out. But better yet is going to see the film – there is a powerful moment at the end of the film when the title becomes clear.
4. What initiated the idea of adding striking monochrome ink/watercolour animation to the film?
There are very few photographs of Raphael Lemkin, and even less footage, so our use of animation came out of the struggle to get audiences to connect emotionally with him. He was a writer, but also a doodler, and a poet, so it felt appropriate to bring him to life in this way.
5. How did you come about choosing the four remarkable stories for the film?
Finding the main characters, and through them the stories that are woven together to make up the film, happened naturally. One person lead me to the next, and each in turn brought something unique and interesting to the film as a whole.
6. Lots of research that has gone into the making. How long did it take to make the entire film?
From start to finish I would say that the film took a little over ten years, although I worked on other projects during that time too. What was hard was finding the right moment to stop – the sad reality is that these stories are all ongoing. You can pick up a newspaper on any day and realize that the story of the film hasn’t ended.
7. What was the most challenging aspect of directing the film?
Interweaving the film’s different threads was a big challenge – there are multiple characters and stories, as well as archival footage, stills, animation, original cinema verite footage and more traditional interviews. It wasn’t easy!
8. You are renowned for creating ‘graceful and insightful films’. How did you manage to capture this in Watchers of the Sky?
If we managed to do this it is because of the great team working with me – I had the privilege of collaborating with some fantastic cinematographers, editors and animators.
9. What would you want the audience to take away from the film?
I hope audiences walk away with a sense of hope. Even though we have many challenges ahead of us, if someone like Ben Ferencz can – at 94 years old – keep working to make the world a better place, we must too.
10. What can we expect for future work and projects?
I’m working on a number of projects – so stay tuned!