E-Team is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.
See more films
★★★★ review by Scott Anderson on Letterboxd
There is a sequence during the Netflix Original documentary E-Team that felt very familiar to me at first glance, and I realized its striking similarities to a moment during the recent film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in which Katniss explores her former home after bombs had turned everything she found familiar to rubble. In E-Team an area that had been a place of relative normalcy only an hour earlier is now completely destroyed by bombs from above, an aerial strike on a residential location, women and children wounded, innocent lives lost.
That particular moment in The Hunger Games is effective and emotionally stirring, sure, but in the end it is fiction. I get swept up in the narrative and buy into the story, but I can go home knowing that no actual harm was done. The destruction is a set designed by Hollywood, the bodies and bones all props placed carefully by professionals. What we see in E-Team is far too real, and it is painfully haunting. The documentary focuses on a team of people that are sent into areas that recently experienced horrific tragedies deemed emergencies, and the goal of the team is to investigate whether human rights of those impacted have been violated.
The cameras are rolling constantly almost like a found footage film, only this footage actually is legitimate and I considered the possibility at times that it would need to be found rather than returned safely. During a sequence or two, the camera is put down and not focused on any particular subject as planes fly overhead and bombs are being dropped nearby. It sounds awful to label such atrocities as entertaining because obviously I would prefer humanity wouldn't suffer such awfulness in order for me to see it, but it is during these tense moments that E-Team is nearly overwhelmingly compelling, as my eyes couldn't leave the screen even if I had tried.
I had to remind myself that the real point of the documentary isn't the atrocities themselves but to understand these people who risk their lives to investigate them, so while spending a decent amount of time focusing on the quieter moments of their lives away from the war zones may not have been as interesting, the decision to do so was necessary for the film to achieve its goals. I actually think the real flaw of E-Team is that it could have been a little bit longer, had a little bit more meat on its bones, because the subject matter felt heavier than the sub-90 minute running time was capable of showcasing.
While documentaries such as this or the other Netflix originals I have seen like Virunga or last years incredible work The Square aren't particularly fun to watch in terms of their subject matter or message, they are important and riveting films that deserve our attention. I get to sit on this couch in a warm home in front of a beautiful LED screen. The least I can do is better understand what is happening in the world outside these walls and appreciate why these people went to such great and dangerous lengths to have these films made.
★★★★ review by Ruksana 🍂 on Letterboxd
Very sturdy and inspiring Netflix documentary on the E-Team, or the Emergencies Team of the Human Rights Watch. They're a group that goes into places like war zones where humans rights abuses may be occurring and documents these crimes in order to call the world's attention to them. It's a slick and well-made doc about a very important cause, with a pretty memorable cast of characters. Made me want to get involved.
★★★½ review by Shaun Munro on Letterboxd
From the directing duo of Oscar-winner Ross Kauffman (Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids) and Katy Chevigny, this intimate if messy look at the Human Rights Watch's "E-Team" of war crime investigators is enormously relevant and well-wrought throughout.
The opening images of E-Team show one of the team's focal members, Ole, interviewing civilians in Syria as a plane flies overhead, causing everyone in the room to fly into a panicked fear for their lives. However, this is just a tease of how brave and selfless these dedicated individuals are; things only get more insane when Ole and his wife Anya are then shown smuggling themselves into the country, as they conduct investigations as to Bashar al-Assad's complicity in attacking his own civilians.
Ole, Anya and the other tirelessly devoted investigators they work with seem so hilariously in over their heads from the outset, and that's primarily what keeps the doc so totally engrossing. To find accountability and to bring someone to justice for violating international law is no picnic, and in examining the rigours of how the E-Team goes about this - as well as verifying eyewitness accounts and attempting to convince the public (namely Russia) of the Syrian government's guilt - the film is effortlessly fascinating.
Unsurprisingly, real results are hard to come by, and the subjects spend a good deal of their time riffing on the difficult, imperfect nature of activism by its sheer definition. Pragmatism, then, is the key; get the footage of the destruction online for the world to see, and as one participants puts it, try to make the war as tolerable as possible for the poor souls stuck in the middle of it.
If the brief coverage of the 2011 toppling of Gaddafi's regime in Libya feels disappointingly piecemeal and therefore meshes somewhat awkwardly with the more in-depth Syria portion, this doc still entrenches viewers deep in not just the dangerous territories - one brief section in a recently bombed-out region of Syria is especially eerie - but also the strained personal lives of the team. This is particularly true of Ole and Anya, who have one young child and are preparing for another on the way. All in all, complete with its flaws, E-Team is a compelling portrait of a noble group of brave, intrepid investigators.
★★★★ review by Gals on Letterboxd
Is there anyone who thinks the work these people do isn’t honorable? This documentary should be watched by anyone who ever had a problem with refugees coming to America. It would shut them right up.
Side note, it was a little upsetting to see how easy it is to sneak into Syria. I mean a film crew literally snuck into Syria.
★★★★ review by Tommy Truong on Letterboxd
A documentary that had enough compelling moments to make me truly care.
- See all reviews