Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2011
Brandeis University Web Stite


International Global Studies
Philosophy and Legal Studies
Peace and Conflict Studies

Professor Andreas Teuber
Andreas Teuber

FALL 2011



War Don Don

War Don Don: The War is Over, A Trial Begins

In the heart of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, United Nations soldiers guard a heavily fortified building known as the "special court." Inside, Issa Sesay awaits his trial. Prosecutors say Sesay is a war criminal, guilty of heinous crimes against humanity. His defenders say he is a reluctant fighter who protected civilians and played a crucial role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone. With unprecedented access to prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims, and, from behind bars, Sesay himself, WAR DON DON puts international justice on trial for the world to see - finding that in some cases the past is not just painful, it is also opaque.

War Don Don

Director Rebecca Richman Cohen's Statement:

In the summer of 2006 I sat behind bulletproof glass in the observer gallery of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the world's first international war crimes "hybrid tribunal," created jointly by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone. At the time I was working not as a filmmaker, but as a law student and legal intern for a defense team. Though I was assigned to work on the case of the AFRC-accused, Alex Tamba Brima, I found myself drawn to observe the trial of the leader of a different warring faction.

From my seat in the gallery of the RUF-accused trial, I first observed Issa Sesay, a former rebel leader accused of crimes against humanity and a key player in the peace negotiations - and I was fascinated by the range of roles that one man could assume amidst the intensity of such a brutal conflict. I became convinced that the story of his trial needed to reach a larger audience. Combining my legal experience in criminal defense with my background as a filmmaker, I realized that a documentary film could communicate the complexities of Sesay's rise and fall from power.

In 2011 the Special Court for Sierra Leone prepares to be the first major war crimes tribunal to conclude its cases since the Trials at Nuremberg more than sixty years ago. This landmark moment in international criminal justice is a timely call for introspection, dialogue, and critical analysis. I hope WAR DON DON offers an insider's view about the complex moral, political, and legal questions that issue from rebuilding lawless and war torn nations - and will inspire thoughtful debate about the future of international criminal justice.

"One of the most viscerally compelling documentaries of the year, it will leave you haunted."
- Mary Anderson Casavant, Filmmaker Magazine

Watch the Trailer:


"War Don Don" is nominated for two EMMY AWARDS: Outstanding Continuing Coverage Of A News Story (Long Form) and Outstanding Editing.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, present filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen the First Annual Hugo Munsterberg Award for psychology of human nature in cinema
"War Don Don" wins the Best Film Award from the Investigative Report Jury at the Festival international du film des droits de l'homme (FIFDH) in Paris
Rebecca Richman Cohen profiled in Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces in Independent Film as an "up-and-comer poised to shape the next generation of independent film."
"War Don Don" makes critics' 2010 year-end lists of best films. Village Voice posts Cynthia Fuchs' favorite films of 2010 with "War Don Don" at number four.
Christopher Campbell's moviefone blog lists "War Don Don" as one of the 10 Best Documentaries of 2010 To Watch For. Campbell writes, "one of the most thought-provoking films I saw all year and one of the few human rights-centered docs I found to be important for reasons other than just their issues."
Philadelphia City Paper lists "War Don Don" as one of the best films of 2010.
Jerome McDonnell interviews Rebecca Richman Cohen on WBEZ Chicago's Worldview
Professor William Schabas, a former commissioner at the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, blogs about "War Don Don" and the troubling nature of the sentences imposed by the Special Court
"War Don Don" featured in Silverdocs promo
Listen to interview with Rebecca Richman Cohen on WYNC's The Leonard Lopate Show
Photos from spring 2010 screenings, awards, and outreach activities (Boston, Freetown, Barcelona, New York)
In connection with the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Cinereach presents its annual Cinereach Award to Rebecca Richman Cohen for excellence in artful, vital storytelling
Read the Film Journal International's interviews with filmmakers invited to the Human Rights Watch Festival (with special focus on War Don Don - see link at the bottom to complete interview with Rebecca Richman Cohen)
Francisco Bello, producer and editor, wins The Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing at IFFBoston for his work on "War Don Don"
Harvard Law School News highlights "War Don Don" screening at the Independent Film Festival Boston
"War Don Don" wins Special Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival
"War Don Don" is awarded a grant from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation through the through the Women in Film Finishing Fund
Listen to Texas Observer interview with filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen
Watch KXAN Austin morning news interview
eFilmCritic interview with "War Don Don" director
Harvard Law Bulletin, A Free Town Captured: Focusing On War Crimes Through Law and Film about Rebecca Richman Cohen's work on a defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006
"War Don Don" is awarded the Independent Filmmaker Lab Finishing Grant, the Women in Film (WIF) Finishing Fund Grant and named as a finalist for IDA's Pare Lorentz Finishing Fund (2009)
"War Don Don" excerpts screened at IFP's Independent Film Week (Sept 2009)
"War Don Don" production team participates in the IFP Independent Filmmaker Lab (April 2009)
"War Don Don" is awarded the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant. Thom Powers counts it among his top ten documentary events of 2008 (April 2008)

"Without eliding the grim human cost of the crimes and criminals involved, producer-director Rebecca Richman Cohen's unusually lucid documentary plays against type: It dares to see the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel leader Issa Sesay as something like human, rather than an embodiment of pure evil. Yet there's no facile exoneration to be found." Read Entire Article
     — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

"War Don Don offers one of the most complex views of a legal proceeding ever presented in a documentary film. By putting the trial itself on trial, Cohen creates a fascinating puzzle certain to provoke debate amongst audience members." Read Entire Article
     — Penny Lane, Brooklyn Rail

"The film supplies incredible visual power, is rhythmically precise in its pace and timbre, and presents the hard-won access these filmmakers had to its very best advantage for the viewer to weigh, ponder, listen and learn.... This is highly-nuanced, thought-provoking filmmaking, providing profound sustenance for both the mind, the conscience and the heart." Read Entire Article
     — Pamela Cohn, Still In Motion

"'War Don Don' forces its audience to challenge preconceived notions of righteousness, justice and retribution. Even the seemingly secure concept of truth is quickly muddied, creating the most satisfying intellectual and emotional discomfort.... The film's aesthetic, simultaneously stunning and disturbing, matches the tenor of the issues at hand. Refraining from voiceover and allowing the war, the court and Sierra Leone itself to serve as much of the soundtrack, Cohen deftly removes herself from the film. Instead, she elegantly allows the violence, the individuals involved, and, in the end, the lingering questions to haunt the viewer." Read Entire Article
     — Rebecca Agule, Harvard Law Record

" War Don Don is really just another great Rashomon-esque legal documentary, albeit one with global importance.... I don't think I've been more torn on whether or not an accused subject is truly guilty or not since The Staircase (if you haven't seen that one, Capturing the Friedmans may come to mind instead).... [Cohen] provokes and feeds discussion, one you'll be surely having with others or yourself for quite some time after seeing the film. And you must see it, whether or not you can catch it during HRW." Read Entire Article
     — Christopher Campbell, Cinematical

"Remarkable... Again and again, the film underscores the recording per se, with shots of the courtroom camera swiveling and TV screens scritching. Mediated and multiply framed, truth remains elusive; what remain are images and reflections, narratives that speak to current needs as much as past events.... Throughout War Don Don, subtle visual compositions like these make one thing clear. The film is not about Sesay's guilt or even the RUF's many atrocities. It is about processes, pursuits and perspectives of order, ever limited views, and institutional efforts to "right history" that can never be complete. It's about how difficult it is to understand." Read Entire Review
     — Cynthia Fuchs, Pop Matters

" War Don Don is one of the most thought-provoking documentaries you will see this year. It tells the story of the trial of accused war criminal, Issa Sesay, a leader of the rebel army in Sierra Leone during the country's brutal civil war... It's hard to imagine how Sesay could be a sympathetic character-the fact that he does is not the only surprising thing about this movie, which packs more information in 90 minutes than just about any other film like it." Read Entire Article
     — Michael May, Texas Observer

"I highly recommend checking out War Don Don... Rather than pushing a particular narrative, or view of the international justice system, War Don Don allows the individuals at the heart of the trial to speak for themselves... To the film's credit, it doesn't feel forced to answer the questions it raises. War Don Don is a way to start a broader conversation about international justice, not to end one. In sum: go, and take your interns with you!" Read Entire Blog Entry
     — Amanda Taub, Wronging Rights

"The documentary's drama doesn't emerge from whether Sesay will be found guilty; we hear his sentence at the start of the movie and then at intervals throughout, as we watch different people react to the news. The dramatic arc is the change in our own reactions to the verdict.... As Cohen knits together a 360-degree view of Sesay... War Don Don gives us plenty to chew on." Read Entire Article
     — Elise Nakhnikian, Slant Magazine

"An extremely well-made documentary... When a prosecutor says he sees pure evil in Sesay's face and Sesay's lawyer says he sees a good man, you want to look into the commander's eyes and see for yourself." Blurb
     — Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe

"One of the most viscerally compelling documentaries of the year, it will leave you haunted." Article
     — Mary Anderson Casavant, Filmmaker Magazine

"Fascinating and complex... a remarkably sophisticated examination of the machinery of justice." Blurb
     — The Independent Weekly, Raleigh, NC

"Impressive work." Blurb
     — Hank Sartin, Timeout Chicago

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Last Modified: 11/23/11
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