Audience Remembers Late Filmmaker, Feels Impact of 'The Uncondemned'

Michele Mitchell, left, and Diane Louvel, right, were on hand for the world premiere of "The Uncondemned," a documentary focusing on the classification of rape as a war crime. Ms. Mitchell co-directed the film along with Nick Louvel, the brother of Ms. Louvel. Mr. Louvel died in a recent car accident. Morgan McGivern

Nick Louvel had just dropped off the documentary film he co-directed, "The Uncondemned," to the organizers of the Hamptons International Film Festival late at night on Sept. 23. He took a selfie in the process, then text-messaged it to his co-director colleague, Michele Mitchell, along with two short sentences: "I'm proud of this film. I'm proud of us."

Shortly after that, as he was driving to his Wainscott home, headed north on Route 114 in East Hampton, Mr. Louvel's car crossed into the southbound lane, left the road, and struck several trees, pinning him inside his wrecked car and causing the injuries that eventually led to his death at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The picture and text message were Mr. Louvel's last communication with Ms. Mitchell, who appeared Friday with Mr. Louvel's sister, Diane Louvel, by her side, and gave the emotional account of his last night alive.

"He was an incredible colleague and person who I was privileged to call my friend," said Ms. Mitchell. She provided the festival with a short, off-the-cuff, behind-the-scenes video she and Mr. Louvel had made at the conclusion of the shooting of their documentary – a video that depicted the late filmmaker as charismatic and witty, but passionate.

David Nugent, the artistic director of the Hamptons International Film Festival, recalled Mr. Louvel, his former student, as a very talented filmmaker and great person.

"The last few weeks have been hard for many, but I'm so happy that Nick and Michele have made a film that will be remembered," Mr. Nugent said.

The film itself left quite an impact on the audience, which had nearly sold out the seats at the screening. It received a standing ovation after it concluded and the panelists who were to discuss the film were introduced: The very same human rights attorneys and activists who had pushed for the classification of weaponized rape as an international war crime for the first time following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which was the focus of the film.

The film itself opened with silence, but soon escalated into rapidly shown footage of carnage in the war between the Hutus and Tutsis, the primary two ethnic groups of Rwanda at the time the genocide was taking place. It briefly asserts that the American news media seemed to prefer reporting the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase and subsequent murder trial while the Rwandan genocide was happening. The documentary then steers the conversation in the direction of the sexual violence that is often used as a tool of war by those in power, and focuses on the work of the diverse group of young attorneys and activists who took on the issue.

The panel, including Pierre Prosper, the prosecutor of the key case during the war crime trial at the international tribunal convened after the Rwandan genocide; Sara Dareshori and Patricia Sellers, who were researchers and investigators during the trial; and Binaifer Nowrojee, a women's rights activist who was a key player in collecting witness testimony. The panel discussion represented their first reunion in almost 20 years since the conclusion of the initial trial. It was moderated by Patricia Sabga, the economics and global affairs correspondent for Al Jazeera America.

The message was clear: There is more work to be done. Weaponized rape has yet to become a more widely convicted offense during times of war, they said. The media needs to learn how to report more sensitively, they said, and should look toward "The Uncondemned" as a prime example of how to do it the right way.

"I think we're just beginning to compose the verbs and adjectives for it," said Ms. Sellers, who said she sees the lack of rape convictions among more recent war crimes trials as "the ignorance of political will."

Some of the panelists said they hoped the international community would take away from the film a universal sense of justice, and that it can be very empowering to step forward and testify in the name of such justice.

"The individual can make a difference," Mr. Prosper said.

Based on the questions from the audience, there appeared to be a sense that Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Louvel had themselves made a difference with their documentary.

"He always said, 'I want to make narratives,'" Ms. Mitchell said, "but I said, 'You'll be amazed at the impact a documentary can have.'"

"The Uncondemned" screens again on Sunday at 6 p.m. at East Hampton Cinema.