Lemkin's and the UN's efforts to prevent genocide have largely gone unfulfilled, partly due to man's inherently tribal nature and partly due to the general indifference of the world. Belzberg goes through the several ethnic cleansings of the last 30 years, stopping by the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Footage of high-ranking officials openly flaunting their murderous power are overlain with commentary from people that were then at middle manager positions, desperately and futilely trying to get their bosses to move. A UN general recounts being told by an American military officer that a single US life is worth about 80,000 Rwandans, and Hutus go on to slaughter Tutsis by the hundreds of thousands. The perpetrators are occasionally prosecuted after the fact, but there remains little that can be done while a genocide is happening, as shown by Sudanese president Omar Bashir's jaunts around the world, signing Chinese resource deals and holding press conferences about his goal of ridding his country of 'vermin.'
Even the most dramatic subjects can be rendered academic without strong editing, and Watchers of the Sky holds the viewer's attention with more than its dire and urgent historical message. The talking heads are passionate and well-spoken, and editors Jenny Golden and Karen Sim pull off several coups in montage. A seamless transition from 1940's footage to '90's footage of refugees being packed into vehicles is chilling and makes the whole film's point in one sequence. Belzberg is tackling a huge subject, but there is a feel of inclusion and thoroughness despite the 100-year period of history jammed into a 2 hour runtime. The world seems to be breaking apart from large institutions back into smaller ones, and Belzberg's timely film reminds the viewer of the danger of such a disaggregation. If the world community can barely stop genocides now, it surely won't be able to with a defunded UN and a fracturing EU. The subjects, dead and alive, in Watchers of the Sky would surely argue for the essential sameness in the value of every human life, an idea sadly retreating from national conversations. B+