Written by: Jami Ganz
Last week, “The Uncondemned” premiered at the New York Film Critics Fall Series®.
The film takes the tragic memory of the Rwandan Genocide and pulls back the curtain for Western audiences, delving into a widely glossed-over aspect of the story. We are introduced to a set of now-seasoned but once wide-eyed young lawyers and activists who found their purpose in bringing Rwanda’s war criminals to justice— not for the countless lives they ended and cities they’d destroyed, but for the innocents they’d brutally raped and often tortured.
At the time, it was unprecedented to convict war criminals of this. After all, what was rape when compared to slaughter? The men and women who fought to change this quickly learned that though rape did not necessarily lead to a physical death (though it did often enough, as is graphically described in the film), it resulted in an internal demise. This ended life as the victims knew it, and it needed to be brought to light.
The film takes us through the countless trials and tribulations experienced by the lawyers, activists and witnesses—including witness intimidation. The difficulty of crafting such a case was multiplied tenfold, given its international stage, though it made the verdict that much more triumphant.
Through interviews with witnesses—including JJ, somewhat of a celebrity amongst international criminal law students—we get a glimpse of just what was at stake. Testifying didn’t just risk the reputations of these women, but their lives. The film is ripe with the memory of torture inflicted on the nation of Rwanda, but it’s anchored in the strength of the women who fought to have their voices heard and their experiences recognized.
Following the film, director Michele Mitchell sat down with host, Allison Bailes for an interview and audience Q&A.
Mitchell, known for her controversial PBS documentary, Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?, discussed the process behind bringing such a weighty story to the screen. She recounted the night she and co-director and film editor, Nick Louvel (1981-2015), spent in close proximity to the Interahamwe—the ruthless militia responsible for the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide—following a heated interview with them. She spoke about the ease with which she communicated with the women she interviewed, despite the fact that she couldn’t personally relate to their horrors—she came away from the film with PTSD.
Mitchell recounted the hurdles she had to jump through after losing Louvel, who passed away shortly before the film’s premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival. With the help of many others, Mitchell finished the film and it’s garnered rave reviews since its premiere.
“The Uncondemned” is currently playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
To learn more about the NY Film Critics Series head here!