Director Callum Macrae delivered two acclaimed Channel 4 TV documentaries on the Sri Lankan civil war before crafting 'No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields Of Sri Lanka'. The new documentary is a harrowing feature-length offering of the collateral damage of the Sri Lankan goverment's bitter fight with the LTTE (otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers) - a bloody civil war that has left accusations of war crimes at the feet of those still in power in Sri Lanka.
Largely amalgamating his previous efforts, Macrae chronicles the final months of the government-led military assault against the Tamil Tigers through home videos from the civilians needlessly caught up in the violence and personal accounts from aid workers and survivors. The documentary begins with the disappointing exit of the UN in September 2008 and ends with the Sinhalese government's victory in 2009 but the story begins much earlier.
The Tamil Tigers were set up to establish their own independent state, escalating their efforts to begin the Sri Lankan civil war in 1983 - seeking to win at any cost, including suicide bombings and acts of ethnic cleansing. Yet they are not the only villains of the piece. Indeed, Macrae portrays the Sri Lankan government as the true villains - his claim being that they deliberately deceived the world's media and politicians over the number of civilian casualties and the manner of their assault.
The footage presented shows the systematic targeting of Sri Lankan civilians by their own government in so-called "no fire zones"/safe zones. Worse yet, the frequent targeting of medical facilities compounds a lack of medical supplies, which the volunteer doctors accuse the government of withholding. Such methods, we are told through the narration of Rufus Sewell, constitute war crimes. The final estimate of deaths by the UN being somewhere in the region of 70,000 during the time covered by the film.
The nature of the footage is particularly difficult to sit through but equally important to witness. It's almost perverse to say but Macrae eases the viewer into the horrifying images by simply showing scores of dead bodies throughout the film before we are presented with scenes of summary execution. This footage is stark and chilling, and accompanied by other troubling scenes intimating sexual violence.
The reason that Macrae has chosen to share these disturbing scenes with the world is that the Sri Lankan government continue to deny any wrongdoing. His quest for an independent investigation into their actions is a noble one, arguably inspite of its methods. In some respects, this documentary is similar to 'The Act Of Killing', another recent film examining murder and accountability. Macrae must hope for a similar catharsis and justice.
Having had the privilege of viewing 'No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields Of Sri Lanka' at its London premiere and the overwhelmingly numb feeling as it reached its conclusion, we then found ourselves in a Q&A with Callum Macrae. Hosted by newscaster Jon Snow, the Q&A largely focussed upon the need to bring the film to a wider audience - in particular, to those involved in the forthcoming Commonwealth summit set to be held in Sri Lanka this November.
The audience shared various perspectives of their own - Bianca Jagger announcing herself and dubiously managing to get a round of applause mid-sentence, having attempted to suggest that we petition David Cameron to stop him attending the November summit. Perhaps most pertinent was the view of a Sri Lankan working in the tourism industry, who made the point that boycotting the country as a holiday destination would hurt its people more than its military. And as 'No Fire Zone' shows, the Sri Lankan people have already suffered so much.
Find more info and your nearest screening at nofirezone.org.