In Watchers of the Sky, Benjamin Ferencz, the chief prosecutor of the infamous Nuremberg trials and a lawyer who still dedicates his life to the pursuit of ending war making at age 93, explains why a documentary about a group of formidable people trying to stop genocide all over the world has a title that resembles a science-fiction flick: He tells the story of Tycho Brahe, a sixteenth century astronomer who studied the stars for 25 years. When asked why he bothered to study something no one will care about or appreciate during his time, he responded that the next generations could pick up where he left off, and that the least he could do was to save them 25 years of research.
Perhaps those who fight for ending atrocities like genocide all over the world are like Tycho, hoping that one day the world will be ready to leave behind crimes against humanity while doing whatever they can to continue that progress across several generations. They know that focusing on tangible change in the immediate future is usually a futile attempt, that most of their cries will fall on deaf ears, but they soldier on regardless, hoping that the next generation will not be so indifferent towards mass suffering.
There has been observable change in people's minds on this subject during the last century. Edet Belzberg's informative, expansive and passionate documentary begins with the profile of the man who coined the term "genocide", Raphael Lemkin. After Lemkin lost 49 members of his family to Nazi concentrations camps, he worked tirelessly to put a stop to the senseless, government sanctioned mass killings until his last breath. When he asked whether or not the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire should be punished on the world stage, he was told that the Turks could do whatever they wanted within their own land, including killing millions of their own people. There has been change during the twentieth century, not as much as we'd like, but at least we don't openly condone monsters as they get away with such actions anymore.
I say usually, because Louis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has been trying to bring the perpetrators of the Darfur massacre to justice for almost ten years, without a single person brought in so far. Emmanuel Uwurukundu, a humanitarian who lost his entire family to the Rwandan genocide, says there are two possible reactions to surviving such pain, you either shut yourself down to the world and wish to die yourself, or you fight against such atrocities with every fiber of your being. It doesn't matter to him if his efforts don't yield any results whatsoever, the fight against injustice becomes second nature. Something similar happened to Lemkin, who became penniless, sustaining himself on borrowed sandwiches while struggling to get the UN to officially criminalize genocide. His work paved the way for his contemporary counterparts, who will more than likely pass their passion to the next generation.
Watchers in the Sky looks as clean as it can while upconverted from a standard definition source. There are some issues of aliasing but most of the time we get a fairly clear presentation. A big chunk of the documentary uses archival footage dating back to the very early twentieth century and those elements were restored as best as they could be.
Watchers of the Sky comes with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Since this is a documentary that focuses mostly on interviews, there isn't much of a surround presence and one should not expect it. The subtle score by Dougie Bowne is mixed appropriately into the background.
Ben at The United Nations: A short featurette about Benjamin Ferencz visiting the UN.
A Day with The Rebels: One of the arguments that Watchers of the Sky posits is whether or not violence against oppression is justified. While defending diplomacy, the film's subjects also state that if the Tutsi rebels didn't fight back and waited for help from the rest of the world, more of their kind would have been wiped out. In this short segment, we spend a day with the Darfurian rebels struggling to defend themselves against their oppressors.
Interviews with Lemkin's Family and Friends: This 20-minute documentary is the best extra on this DVD. It's full of candid and loving interviews with surviving members of Lemkin's family and friends, talking about Lemkin's legacy.
We also get a Trailer.
Based on journalist Samantha Power's book A Problem From Hell, Watchers of the Sky tries to cram in too much into its two hours at times, and might have benefitted more from becoming a miniseries instead. It's also a bit unbalanced, with the second hour basically turning into a documentary on Darfur alone. However, what it does best is to capture the passions of its subjects while they fight to end these senseless killings.