War Don Don

Through the trial of a rebel leader in Sierra Leone, a nation faces its wartime past. Now international justice is on trial for the world to see.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
85 mins
Remote video URL


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.

Featured review

War Don Don is a triumph of agenda-free nonfiction filmmaking... It's among the year's finest documentaries.
P. Hall
Video Librarian


War Don Don is the most compelling film about international justice since Judgment at Nuremberg. It's a great vehicle for teaching international criminal law and inspiring classroom debate.
Professor Michael P. Scharf
Director of the Frederick K. International Law Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
One of the most viscerally compelling documentaries of the year, it will leave you haunted.
Mary Anderson Casavant
Filmmaker Magazine
Fascinating and complex... a remarkably sophisticated examination of the machinery of justice.
The Independent Weekly
Raleigh, NC
This vivid film provides enough detail, nuance, and controversy to inform both experts and newcomers to the issues of international criminal justice—and wonderfully combines legal and political insight with compelling narrative and visual power.
Martha Minow
author, “Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence"

Awards and Screenings

EMMY NOMINATION: Outstanding Continuing Coverage Of A News Story (Long Form), 2011
EMMY NOMINATION: Outstanding Editing, 2011
US Broadcast, HBO Documentary Films, 2010
WINNER South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), Special Jury Award, 2010
WINNER Human Rights Watch Film Festival New York, Cinereach Award, 2010
WINNER Independent Film Festival Boston, Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing, 2010
WINNER Taiwan International Documenty Festival, First Merit Prize, 2010
WINNER Festival International du Film des Droits de L’Homme, Best Film Award, Investigative Report Jury, 2011
Opening Night CAMERA JUSTITIA, Amnesty International's Movies That Matter Festival, 2010

Director Commentary

In the summer of 2006 I sat behind bulletproof glass in the observer gallery of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the world's first international war crimes "hybrid tribunal," created jointly by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone. At the time I was working not as a filmmaker, but as a law student and legal intern for a defense team. Though I was assigned to work on the case of the AFRC-accused, Alex Tamba Brima, I found myself drawn to observe the trial of the leader of a different warring faction.

From my seat in the gallery of the RUF-accused trial, I first observed Issa Sesay, a former rebel leader accused of crimes against humanity and a key player in the peace negotiations – and I was fascinated by the range of roles that one man could assume amidst the intensity of such a brutal conflict. I became convinced that the story of his trial needed to reach a larger audience. Combining my legal experience in criminal defense with my background as a filmmaker, I realized that a documentary film could communicate the complexities of Sesay's rise and fall from power.

In 2012 the Special Court for Sierra Leone prepares to be the first major war crimes tribunal to conclude its cases since the Trials at Nuremberg more than sixty years ago. This landmark moment in international criminal justice is a timely call for introspection, dialogue, and critical analysis. I hope War Don Don offers an insider's view about the complex moral, political, and legal questions that issue from rebuilding lawless and war torn nations - and will inspire thoughtful debate about the future of international criminal justice.

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