Shedding Light on Human Rights Violations with Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s ‘E-TEAM’

Posted by on 6.11.2014

Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman's documentary follows the lives of several members of the Human Rights Watch's E-Team (Emergencies Team). Bringing the audiences to unstable and dangerous regions of the world, including Syria and Libya, Chevigny and Kauffman strive to inspire audience attention to areas where war crimes and human rights violations are committed. E-TEAM chronicles the lives of those who risk their lives to bring these important subjects to the attention of the media and further. Part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the New York premiere screening takes place on Thursday, June 12 at The Times Center, followed by a discussion with filmmakers Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, as well as subjects Fred Abrahams, Peter Bouckaert, and Anna Neistat.

Filmlinc asked the directors included in the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival to give some insight on filmmaking and tackling issue-oriented work prior to the launch of the series.

E-TEAM

Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, USA, 2013, 89m

Responses by Chevigny:

On finding a subject fit for a film:

We knew a little bit about the work of Human Rights Watch before we started making the film, but not a lot. And we weren't interested in making a film about human rights just because it's a worthy issue. Worthy issues in and of themselves don't necessarily make for good films. What really drew us to this film were the characters. Several years ago, we (Ross and Katy) had dinner with the members of the E-Team, (the nickname for HRW's Emergencies Team,) and we immediately thought: These guys are great. They'd be great in a movie. So that was what motivated us: we, as filmmakers, wanted to know more about what made Anya, Fred, Ole and Peter do this work and we thought viewers would find them compelling as well. 

 On bringing an audience to an issue through the film:

There are activist films and then there are films that can be used for activism. We see E-TEAM as the latter. We first and foremost wanted to make a dramatic film that was compelling to watch, because that's how you preach beyond just the choir. Our hope was that people would be drawn to the movie because they'd care about the E-Team members, and then some of those viewers would also want to learn more about human rights work after seeing the film. So our intention was that interest in the film itself would draw folks to the issue subsequently.

On the unpredictable shooting schedule and editing process: 

Since the definition of their work is "emergencies", it made it very hard to plan the shoots. We basically had to be ready to leave on a shoot with 24 hours notice if we got word that our characters were traveling on a mission that we wanted to film. Editing the film was also a big challenge, because we had over 350 hours of footage that took place in half a dozen countries with multiple languages, and our Editor David Teague and Associate Editor Jamie Boyle had to plow through and organize this material, as well as working to build a strong story out of this mass of material. Lastly, and perhaps most critically, almost everyone working on this film had a baby during the making of the film! Ross, Katy, Anya, Ole, Fred and Peter all had children in the last 3 years. 
 
On inspiring curiosity:

We hope that audiences will want to learn more about international human rights broadly, and perhaps be motivated to look into this work more closely. 

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