Barry Avrich’s Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz is my third documentary this year tackling genocide. In those other movies, their subjects discuss their still fresh wounds. In comparison, there’s an objective air here since it spends most of its time talking to the titular lawyer. It mostly shows Ferencz, a wise sage telling a story, a scrappy guy. He’s a part of generation who survived because that was his and his generation’s only choice. There’s something about his voice that reassures his audience even when he tells stories that still haunts him. Watching him choke up reminds us of our privilege in the West that we don’t have to experience war like he did. And yet, there’s the sense here that we’ve failed him by disregarding the lessons of past sins.
This film also presents a different version of masculinity that reemerged after the Second World War. As one of the other talking heads attested to, there’s something beautiful about Ferencz at Nuremberg. There, a short young Jewish guy wielded more power than the tall Aryans who put people like him to the crematoriums. Ferencz won, they lost, but that’s not how he sees things. He had a new perspective of the Nuremberg trials that he was a part of. That yes, he helped prosecute war criminals for the first time in recorded known history. He didn’t see this as revenge but as a way to advocate for humanity. As a reminder, he was on the winning side of the world’s biggest trial when he was 27. Success comes at any age but achieving it that young is a great feat.
There are moments when Ferencz isn’t on the screen and that’s when the documentary shows is tendencies to spit out facts in a dry manner. It also goes through a third act slump, glossing over the time between his participation in the Nuremberg trials to the end of the Cold War. But I like its open-ended air. Ferencz helped usher a dream of a utopia where the world has no wars or walls. At the same time, war criminals are still around, making Ferencz get out of retirement and help prosecute them. If this movie succeeds at one thing, it’s to show that Ferencz is an important part of our history. And it should inspire us to step up and do our part as citizens of the world.
- Release Date: 11/30/2018