Saturday, April 26, 2014

E-Team - my second Hot Docs film

Very good

The sky in the distance is mauve and pink as Anna and Ole set off towards the Syrian border. Before the border they leap out of the car, run across a field, and carefully step over the roll of barbed wire.  They're in. 

Anna (a Russian) and Ole (Norwegian) are from Human Rights Watch and they're in Syria to witness and document human rights violations in the Syrian uprising. Putting themselves in great personal danger, they painstakingly collect evidence, both forensic and from witnesses.  They are careful to seek out corroborating witnesses for any stories of atrocities. It's a dangerous and important job.

Kosovo marked a turning point for Human Rights Watch. Before Kosovo, observers would do their investigations after the fact and write dry reports. In Kosovo, they created an emergency team called the E-Team which heads into the heart of conflicts where human rights violations are suspected. And their mission is now targeted at getting media attention for violations hoping to stop the atrocities. 

Of the two, Anna is the public speaker. She stages her press conference announcing the Syrian atrocities in Russia, challenging Russia for its support of the Syrian regime. The organization then struggles with whether they should take an advocacy position in favour of a no-fly zone over Syria. Would it be helpful, or would it lead to unintended consequences and jeopardize their reputation for objectivity?

The movie also introduces us to Fred, an earnest American who was a key witness in the Milosevic trial in the Hague, and Peter, the munitions expert. The movie highlights the personal sacrifice of these men and women.  Anna and Ole are married and we see Anna saying goodbye to her teenage son as she heads out for Syria. The movie ends touchingly in Anna's hospital room just after she gives birth to another child. The camera lingers on the wonderment on the faces of Ole and Anna's son as they cradle the newborn in their arms, while Anna looks on fondly. The phone rings and someone is asking for an interview with Anna. There's a brief hesitation. Then she asks "What time?"

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