Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature
Contextualising genocide is difficult. The millions (billions?) of words written on the Holocaust attest to the challenge. A Brilliant Genocide manages to successfully tell the story of the most neglected humanitarian crisis since the formation of the United Nations. The salient facts are brought to the fore to create a cohesive narrative of the Acholi genocide that does not shy away from any of the guilty parties, be they government or rebel. Both Museveni and Kony face documentary reckoning.
This is a brave film, not least because it faces the very real possibility of getting people killed. That is not a criticism. There is no other way to tell the truth without risk. I do not want to recount here what happened in Northern Uganda over the past three decades, Ebony Butler does a better job of that than I could, I want people to see the film for themselves. A Brilliant Genocide allows the survivors, politicians, academics, and soldiers to speak for themselves, to tell their own stories. In doing so, the war is humanised in a way that is not possible through any other medium. The visceral emotion of men and women discussing the atrocities they endured is not lost as it may be if they are just read about. Their accounts are supplemented by archive footage and Hieronymus Bosch-like depictions of torture and violence. All this is done in an unobtrusive style, understanding that no rhetorical device can match simple truth telling.
“To reiterate: find a way of watching this film”
Butler must be especially commended (I can think of no other word) for securing interviews with male survivors of rape. A taboo subject everywhere, but particularly in Uganda. It is not known for LGBT rights and homophobic attacks are commonplace. All of the survivors who appear in the film speak with dignity and measure. At no point does it descend into calls for retribution, no matter how tempting that must have been sometimes. I honestly do not know what more I can say about this documentary. It frankly should not have needed to be made. The Acholi genocide should be ranked alongside the killing fields and Rwanda in the worst excesses of the past century. That so few are knowledgeable is tragic.
A Brilliant Genocide is a stunning exemplar of what film is capable of. I hope that a wider release can be secured through streaming services or even just free on Youtube. It needs to be watched. The survivors need to be heard. I do not know if the film can find justice for the Acholi or even the peace they deserve. However, I do know that the more people that are aware of the genocide, the more uncomfortable it will be for the perpetrators. The spotlight will take away their hiding spaces. To reiterate: find a way of watching this film. If you cannot then please try and read about the war. It has taken 100 years for the Armenian genocide to be fully recognised and acknowledged. The Acholi do not have that long.
Julius L. Geertz A Brilliant Genocide: Facebook & Website
Image: Ebony Butler