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'Watchers of the Sky' looks at high-profile figures working against genocide

'Watchers' examines the life of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Holocaust refugee who not only coined the term 'genocide' but also invented the concept of categorizing mass murder as an international crime, and his spiritual heirs.

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    Raphael Lemkin
    © Arthur Leipzig. Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY
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Edet Belzberg’s documentary “Watchers of the Sky,” which was a decade in the making, reclaims the reputation of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Holocaust refugee who not only coined the term “genocide” but also invented the concept of categorizing mass murder as an international crime. He asked, “Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?” 

Lemkin died in 1959 in obscurity, but his dogged efforts while he was still alive led to the creation of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Belzberg profiles the ongoing efforts of four of Lemkin’s spiritual heirs: Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the ICC; Ben Ferencz, a former US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials who still lobbies at the United Nations for an end to genocide; Rwandan Emmanuel Uwurukundo, UN Refugee Agency field director in Chad, whose dispassionate account of the massacre of his family is beyond comprehension; and Samantha Power, whose prize-winning book, “A Problem From Hell,” is the template for much of this film’s discussion. Belzberg intercuts interviews with these people with archival footage of Lemkin and the atrocities he witnessed as well as modern ones he would have been aghast to observe. Grade: A- (Unrated.) 

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