Genocide Survivor Testimony in Documentary Film: Its Afterlife and Its Legacy

Thu, 09/03/2009 - 12:00am
Read the college's coverage of the event.

If you missed this panel discussion at USC, you can watch a video of the event here.

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute has worked with documentary filmmakers over the past years, many of whom have been involved in the creation of documentaries or film projects dealing with the topic of genocide.  In addition to using testimony from the Institute’s archive, often these filmmakers conducted their own interviews with genocide survivors and witnesses, footage of which has been included into their respective films.  While clips from these interviews are woven into a film’s narrative, the interviews as a whole often remain intact in a filmmaker’s collection of footage.  The value of these interviews or testimonies potentially goes above and beyond the documentary for which they have been created.  For example, they may be of value to secondary and/or post-secondary education.

As part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts Visible Evidence XVI Conference, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute hosted a panel discussion and audience participatory Q&A session on issues related to conducting interviews with genocide survivors for use in documentary film, and what happens to the body of footage after its initial use.

Topics included:

  • Circumstances of interviews
  • Logistical considerations
  • Political considerations
  • Ethical and moral concerns
  • Copyright issues
  • Preservation of, and access to, interview footage
  • Potential roles of interviews beyond their place in documentary film projects

Participants in this panel discussion come from different creative backgrounds and play different roles in the creation of the various works, but their films and work also represent a range of different genocides including the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), and the genocide in Darfur (2003-).
The participants were (in alphabetical order):  Anne Aghion (NYC), Ted Braun (LA), Andi Gitow (Panel Moderator) (NYC), James Moll (LA), Socheata Poeuv (New Haven).  Participant bios follow:


Andi Gitow, producer (NYC, NY)

Andi Gitow is a two-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, news producer and psychologist currently working at the United Nations.  Andi has reported on human rights abuses, genocide, conflict and post-conflict, and humanitarian crises, in more than 30 countries throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South America, including such crisis spots as Rwanda, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sarajevo, Beirut, and Laos.


Anne Aghion, filmmaker (NYC, NY)

Created a film series on Gacaca Justice in Rwanda (2002-2009).  Filming for over a decade in a tiny rural hamlet in Rwanda, Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion has charted the impact of the Gacaca on survivors and perpetrators alike. 

Theodore Braun, writer-director (LA, CA)

Writer-director Ted Braun spent the first five months of 2007 in Sudan with unprecedented access to the internally displaced people of Darfur, international aid workers, the government and the rebels.  The resulting documentary–his critically acclaimed first feature film, Darfur Now –was produced by the Academy Award winning producer of Crash, Cathy Schulman, Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle, and three-time Academy Award winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris–who is also a Distinguished Professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.  The film was financed by Participant Productions and Warner Independent Pictures, which distributed the film worldwide. 

James Moll, filmmaker (LA, CA)

Emmy® and Oscar winning filmmaker James Moll is a director and producer of many documentary films.  In addition, James Moll established and operated The Shoah Foundation with Steven Spielberg for the purpose of videotaping Holocaust survivor testimonies around the world. The Foundation videotaped over 50,000 testimonies in 56 countries. 

Socheata Poeuv, filmmaker (New Haven, CT)

Created the documentary NEW YEAR BABY (2006).  Interviewed survivors of the Cambodian genocide.  The film received numerous awards such as:  "Movies That Matter" Human Rights Award–an initiative by Amnesty International.  The film won by an unanimous jury decision–the highest human rights honor the film can win.