The Reckoning

PBS Premiere: July 14, 2009Check the broadcast schedule »

Production Journal

POV: How long did it take to edit The Reckoning? Can you describe the process?

Peter Kinoy: Making The Reckoning was really a three-year process. As executive editor I start at the very beginning, along with director Pamela Yates, and we work out what the film is going to be about. We work out the major themes, what we're interested in and the approach that we're going to take. Then she carries the project forth in the field and I carry it forth in the edit room. So she'll be out shooting and she and producer Paco de Onís will ship me footage. I'll start looking at the footage in the edit room, trying to figure out where the stories are, and where the characters are.

So editing The Reckoning was a three-year process, but the intensive editing took place during the final seven months. During the last four months of that time we were editing seven days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day, and we probably had three days off during the entirety of the four-month period.

POV: Are you ever in the field with Pamela and Paco? Do you ever join them on shoots?

Colombian soldiers outside government building in Bogotá Soldiers outside a government building in Bogotá, Colombia. Credit: Skylight Pictures

Kinoy: I usually don't, but during the process of shooting The Reckoning things were unfolding very rapidly, and I had to take up the directing mantle at some points. For instance, Pamela and Paco were following the story in eastern Congo when we suddenly found out that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was going to visit Colombia. He had never visited Colombia before, and it was an important part of our story, so I dropped what I was doing, got a crew together and went to Colombia to follow him.

So there are times when I'll be in the field, but generally, I prefer not to be in the field, because for editing, I like to see only what's within the frame and not how difficult it was to get the shot, nor all of the extraneous information that exists beyond the frame. As an editor, you're working with the reality that exists just on the videotape. If a shot took three days to get and it's not a very good shot and it's not important to the film; I'm not going to be influenced by the fact that it took three days to get that shot. For me, it's the reality of what exists within the frame that's going to be important. So in a way, it's good that I'm not often in the field.

POV: What was your biggest challenge in editing the film?

Kinoy: Finding the story was far and away the biggest challenge for The Reckoning. We went through a huge number of permutations and combinations in trying to figure out the story before we homed in on what ended up in the final version of The Reckoning. The challenge was finding the right balance between the incredibly interesting stories in the situation countries and the story of the court, and then bringing those two stories together.

POV: What was the ratio of footage to final film?

Kinoy: As with most of the documentaries we work on, we shot The Reckoning for a long time. In this day and age, when you're shooting high definition onto hard drives, there's not a huge limit to what you can shoot. On this project, we had about 300 hours of footage and about a 100 hours of archival material. That then gets boiled down to the 82:30 that you'll see in the film.

POV: As an editor, what do you think makes a compelling character for a film?

The ICC Building in The Hague, Netherlands The ICC Building in The Hague, Netherlands. Credit: Max Koot ©ICC-CPI

Kinoy: The rule of thumb for documentaries is that they should be character driven. And yet many of our films are made up of many characters, many fascinating people, each of whom tells some facet of the story. In The Reckoning, I would say that the character is really the International Criminal Court. We follow it from its birth and infancy to what is probably its most trying moment - its own reckoning - when it issues an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.

To present an institution as a character is not an easy thing, so our job in telling the story was to bring an abstract institution to life as if it were human. A character has to have pathos; a character has to have vulnerability; a character has to have will; a character has to be an actor in the situation; a character has to have hopes and dreams; and the biggest thing is that a character has to be accessible to the audience. The audience members have to be able to see, in that character, something of themselves.

There certainly are people in The Reckoning with whom the audience can identify, including the prosecutors, who are up against the daunting task of bringing these criminals to justice, and especially the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who again and again shows his mounting frustration with world powers as his attempts to bring some of these criminals before the bench of justice are blocked. But my hope is that ultimately the audience is going to identify with the goals of the court, with the dream that you can have rule of law in the world and that the worst criminals, those who are the heads of countries and who until recently thought they'd have complete impunity for what they've done, will be punished.