“War Don Don,” a film directed Rebecca Richman Cohen ’07, will be shown at this year’s Independent Film Festival in Boston on April 24 at 2:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theater. The film examines the aftermath of the civil war in Sierra Leone and how the international justice system tries to address the atrocities that were committed, documenting the trial of Issa Sesay, a former rebel leader who eventually played a role in the peace negotiations.
The film’s title translates from the Krio to “War is Over.” The cessation of a decade’s atrocities by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which devastated Sierra Leone in the 1990s, is only the beginning of Cohen’s look at the international justice system, however. In 2004, a “hybrid tribunal,” created jointly by the United Nations and Sierra Leone’s government, began accusing RUF officials of crimes against humanity. As Cohen shows in the film, those accusations are not always truthful, as witness accounts vary widely. The film questions whether simple facts are even possible to define in the aftermath of an unspeakably ghastly civil war.
Cohen worked as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders during law school and continued to do investigative work at the Special Court for Sierra Leone during her 2L year. “War Don Don” came from her experience working on a legal defense team for Alex Tamba Brima, the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, the group opposing the RUF.
“In the summer of 2006 I sat behind bulletproof glass in the observer gallery of the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” says Cohen of the inspiration for the film. “At the time I was working not as a filmmaker, but as a law student and legal intern for a defense team. From my seat in the gallery of the…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.”
The film has received critical acclaim, including the Special Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival. Between trips to West Africa, she has since been an adjunct faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she taught an undergraduate seminar entitled “Human Rights, Mass Atrocity, and Documentary Film” and at American University’s Human Rights Institute. Cohen has worked on several films, including Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”