Issa Sesay sits in a courtroom accused of crimes against humanity: the rape, mutilation, and execution of thousands during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. The prosecutor in this United Nations special court sees pure evil in the eyes of the accused, while Sesay’s defense attorney sees a good man who joined the insurrectionist Revolutionary United Front in desperation and later played a role in a disarmament that led to peace in 2002. Both pictures are persuasive, leaving viewers of War Don Don questioning their own concepts of what is true and just. Director Rebecca Richman Cohen came to this story as a law student, watching the Sesay court proceedings behind a thick layer of glass. She asks us to consider carefully the role of an international court built and run with millions in U.S. and UK funding in prosecuting war criminals from one of the poorest countries in the world. Her close look at the accused, the defense, the prosecution, the court, and the people of Sierra Leone exposes the complex nature of the international court system in a nuanced, compelling way. A pity, then, that as much as the dramatic footage of the court proceedings draws viewers in, the film suffers from a shortage of intimate interviews of the victims—interviews that may have helped viewers understand the sheer magnitude of the atrocities Sesay’s case is all about.
At 4:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theater 2; also on Saturday, June 26, at 3 p.m. at the Discovery HD Theater.