Human Rights Watch could want no better documentary about their work about their Emergency Teams than E-TEAM, which follows two of those team, one in Libya, one in Syria, bearing witness to human rights abuse. The Syrian team, Anna Neistat and Ole Solvang traveled to San Francisco along with filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny for a special screening, which is how I had the chance to talk with them.
It’s a humbling experience, talking to people who have put their lives on the line in order to bring justice to the powerless, and my first question is how they prepare themselves mentally to go into a place where being an observer is no guarantee of safety. We went on to discuss where they can and can’t do their work, how they cope with feelings of personal security, the political pressures they deal with, and how effective it is shining light where dictators don’t want it. My favorite part, though, had to have been when Neistat described the cultural sensitivities her gender required, and how she has turned men who make the mistake of underestimating her to her advantage.
Being an audio interview, there was no way to record the look on Kauffman’s face when he described the images that he can’t shake. Eloquent in its simplicity, his descriptions of them, and the tone his voice takes while doing so, speaks volumes.
E-TEAM is their documentary about the trials and triumphs of the observers sent in by Human Rights Watch to document human rights abuses around the world. Traveling to some of the most dangerous parts of the world, they collect witness statements, and take pictures and video that they will use to bring crimes against humanity to light, and, they hope, the perpetrators to justice. In the course of the film Neistat, who is pregnant, and Solvang, and we in the audience, will get a glimpse of their comparatively tranquil home life with their 12-year-old son, and also witness unbelievable atrocities in Syria and with another e-team in Libya. Yet they will meet them with determination and compassion and an unflagging spirit to make the world a better place. Kauffman’s previous work includes BORN INTO BROTHELS, and Chevigny’s includes DEADLINE.