Masters

Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

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One of the most important contemporary African filmmakers, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man) makes his debut non-fiction feature with this chronicle of the former Chadian dictator who in 2016 was tried and convicted in an African court of sexual slavery, torture, and the ordered killing of 40,000 people.

Hissène Habré was Chad's president from 1982 until his ouster in 1990. His one-party regime committed countless human-rights abuses. It also had deep ties to the CIA, which helped to train his notorious secret police force. Like other diabolical dictators who have faced trial, Habré refused to recognize the court's authority and was brought in kicking and screaming. It marked the first time an African despot was tried by an African Union–backed court, and, in May of 2016, he was found guilty of sexual slavery, torture, and the ordered killing of 40,000 people.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is one of the most important African directors working today. In Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy, his first foray into non-fiction, Haroun reveals himself to be a skilled documentarian. The film is structured around the activities of Clément Abaïfouta, a former prisoner who is now the chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime. Meeting with survivors who bear the physical and psychological scars of Habré's rule, Abaïfouta sensitively elicits their horrific testimonies. In one striking instance, a meeting is facilitated between victim and perpetrator, leading to a citizen-led act of reconciliation.

The film fits into a tradition of documenting war atrocities that includes Rithy Panh's S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine and Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, but with an important difference: this film's testimonies were recorded at a time when the perpetrator was still on trial. Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy is a poignant and immediate account of struggle and survival in the face of evil.

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