In the heart of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, United Nations soldiers guard a heavily fortified building known as the “special court.” Inside, Issa Sesay awaits his trial. Prosecutors say Sesay is a war criminal, guilty of heinous crimes against humanity. His defenders say he is a reluctant fighter who protected civilians and played a crucial role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone. With unprecedented access to prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims, and, from behind bars, Sesay himself, War Don Don puts international justice on trial for the world to see — finding that in some cases the past is not just painful, it is also opaque.

  • Directed and produced by Rebecca Richman Cohen
  • Produced and edited by Francisco Bello
  • Line producer: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh
  • Executive producers: Jim Butterworth & David Menschel
  • Co-producer: Daniel J. Chalfen
  • Directors of photography: Nadia Hallgren & William Charles Moss
  • Composer: Max Avery Lichtenstein
  • Featuring the song “War Don Don” by Bajah + Dry Eye Crew

“The film supplies incredible visual power, is rhythmically precise in its pace and timbre, and presents the hard-won access these filmmakers had to its very best advantage for the viewer to weigh, ponder, listen and learn. … This is highly-nuanced, thought-provoking filmmaking, providing profound sustenance for both the mind, the conscience and the heart.”

— Pamela Cohn, Still In Motion

“‘War Don Don’ is one of the most thought-provoking documentaries you will see this year. It tells the story of the trial of accused war criminal, Issa Sesay, a leader of the rebel army in Sierra Leone during the country’s brutal civil war. … It’s hard to imagine how Sesay could be a sympathetic character—the fact that he does is not the only surprising thing about this movie, which packs more information in 90 minutes than just about any other film like it.”

— Michael May, Texas Observer

“‘War Don Don’ forces its audience to challenge preconceived notions of righteousness, justice and retribution. Even the seemingly secure concept of truth is quickly muddied, creating the most satisfying intellectual and emotional discomfort. … The film’s aesthetic, simultaneously stunning and disturbing, matches the tenor of the issues at hand. Refraining from voiceover and allowing the war, the court and Sierra Leone itself to serve as much of the soundtrack, Cohen deftly removes herself from the film. Instead, she elegantly allows the violence, the individuals involved, and, in the end, the lingering questions to haunt the viewer.”

— Rebecca Agule, Harvard Law Record

“An extremely well-made documentary. … When a prosecutor says he sees pure evil in Sesay’s face and Sesay’s lawyer says he sees a good man, you want to look into the commander’s eyes and see for yourself.”

— Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe

“Fascinating and complex…a remarkably sophisticated examination of the machinery of justice.”

— The Independent Weekly, Raleigh, NC


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