Watching helplessly from the United States as his family in Poland was taken from the home of his childhood, loaded on trains as if cargo, and exterminated in concentration camps, Raphael Lempkin searched for a word that might encompass all that was lost. What was happening in Europe was more than murder. The Nazis sought not just to kill people, but to kill a people – to take not only their lives, but their customs, their culture, the stories and lessons they passed on from one generation to the next. As documentary filmmakers enthralled with notions of preservation and cinema’s capacity to not only bear witness, but to document – to serve as a keeper of memories for future generations – it is this notion of genocide as ultimate eraser, that in our eyes makes it such an unspeakable crime. And so, two years ago, we began work on The Last Survivor, a film that follows the lives of Survivors of four different genocides and mass atrocities – The Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur and Congo. In creating this documentary, we have sought to make a film that not only speaks to the connectivity of these individuals as Survivors and, more broadly, as human beings, but a film that serves as a celebration of all that some wished to destroy but could not.
While we have never claimed to understand the complexities of international policy as it relates to genocide better than the experts who have spent their lives working in the field, we do believe that there is much to be said about our often overlooked commonalities. As filmmakers we have a fond appreciation for our medium as one of connection. Film, which unites light with movement and sound, has an unmatched ability to weave together lives and moments. That is the film we set out to create – one which allowed its audience to see past illusory fissures of religion, race, and generations, to marvel at our similarities and reflect on all that can be learned from our differences.
Over the past year, we have traveled the world creating that film. We have had the honor of forming lasting relationships with some of the most inspirational people we’ve had the privilege of meeting – people who have found themselves in the most horrific of circumstances and managed to emerge not defeated but determined. Each life speaks to the deep-rooted connections we all share as human beings; the commonality of their experiences demonstrates the need for a policy of prevention, focusing on the common warning signs that signal impending genocide before violence begins; and their work as activists highlights the dedication and passion of the millions of individuals taking part in the growing movement to end genocide in the 21st century.
We now find ourselves in a small editing suite with hundreds of hours of unwatched footage, the only hard evidence of our expedition. We began this series of blogs in order to create a venue through which we could share the many stories that we’ve come across in our travels – accompanying each with a piece of footage found in the editing room.
At the beginning of April (date soon to be announced), we will be working with the Genocide Prevention Project, the Genocide Intervention Network, the Save Darfur Coalition and many organizations nationwide, in putting together an event that will launch Genocide Prevention Month – a month-long campaign that honors the six genocides that are commemorated in April by highlighting the need to prevent future atrocities before they begin. The kick-off campaign will include a 20-minute version of our film, followed by a panel discussion that features genocide survivors, scholars, and prominent activists. The event will be available via live webcast and so we invite you to organize your own screenings – large screenings at universities, high schools, churches, synagogues and community centers or more intimate screenings in your own living rooms, dorm rooms, and studio apartments.
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing with you much more about the film and its subjects as well as information regarding Genocide Prevention Month. In the meantime, please visit the newly launched Genocide Prevention Month website and sign the pledge affirming your commitment to honor these important anniversaries and work toward a better future.
Watch the work-in-progress trailer of our film here, and stay tuned for more (shorter) clips.
Genocide survivor organizations and other anti-genocide advocates are staging Genocide Prevention Month in April – a time to remember the past and call for an end to mass atrocity crimes now and in the future. Sign a pledge to observe Genocide Prevention Month this April.