The Testimony [2015 Vanessa Block Documentary] Review

The Testimony

Genre: Legal Documentary
Year Released: 2015
Distributor: Escape Artists/Netflix
Origin: USA/Democratic Republic of Congo
Running Time: 28 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: At the End of Slavery, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, The Apology, Nanking, Ocean of Tears, The Rhino Guardians
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Two languages are spoken in The Testimony and both of them are spoken in the DRC: French and Swahili.

-This is the directorial debut of Vanessa Block who also produced, filmed, and did sound production for The Testimony. Her other work consists of producing episodes for Life Line Booth and acting in the short film Love of the Dead.

-One of the producers is Steve Tisch. He’s one of the co-owners of Escape Artists, but he’s also a co-owner of the New York Giants football team. Not only that, he’s also responsible for giving Tom Cruise his first lead role with Risky Business which Tisch also has producer credits for.

War crimes can be very sickening. One such event involves the country of the Democratic Republic of Congo or the DRC for short. They’ve had a bunch of wars and these events go back to the Second Congo War which happened over a decade ago. That war has one of the highest amount of fatalities since World War II which is quite tragic. This is the same country that survived King Leopold II and the genocide that happened during the 19th century.

However, the tragedy continued even into this decade.

The Testimony deals with dozens of women who were called to testify against several DRC army troops at the Minova Trial. This particular trial is about these soldiers accused of raping these women who lived in that city after the troops fled from the rebel forces. Many of these women wore hoods to protect their identities and they all told their stories at this trial and in interview segments outside of the courthouse. This was also the largest rape trial in the whole history of the DRC and even people in the international community became outraged at this event.

This was certainly a chilling documentary to watch. Thankfully, none of those atrocities are shown on-screen, but it can be quite heartbreaking hearing the stories from these Congolese women. One can see the aftereffects with their body language, their scars from cuts and bullet grazes, and other wounds. However, it would be nothing compared to the trauma that was inflicted on them. No one should ever have to go through the horrors that the real victims went through. Vanessa Block also does a good job with the camera work as things are crisp enough to see, but there’s still enough grit to match the sobering tone of this documentary. The usage of earth tones and darker hues really add to the production of The Testimony.

Despite all of that and the serious issue, I had severe issues with The Testimony. Before I go forward with some of my gripes, let me say that those soldiers who really did rape the women deserve to be punished, so I’m not downplaying those telling the truth. For starters, one MAJOR red flag went off on this being a propaganda piece when one of the women was silent when asked if the effects of colonization still affected their homeland. How did I know it was propaganda fodder? Because the answer would involve blaming the European colonizers and I’m not just talking about the horrors of Leopold’s regime having a body count of over ten million Congolese. This also gets didactic when it plays of how the soldiers who did get punished got too soft a treatment. Do you know who else had a soft treatment? Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, and many more I can name, but those filmmakers won’t say it. I also thought the tone appealed too much to emotion compared to hard evidence. Should the women have a right to be emotional if they were violated? Absolutely. However, some of the arguments relied way too much on pathos instead of logos. I didn’t mind the “women standing up” overtones, but I’ve seen it handled much better with The Rhino Guardians even though the subject matter was different.

The Testimony had things going for it, but I thought the short documentary was flawed. There were some powerful stories and testimonies which I certainly can’t deny. I really hope that the DRC soldiers who actually did wrong get punished for what they did. It really bugged me how this documentary went into propaganda territory by ignoring the roots to the rampant poverty and corruption that plagued the DRC for a long time while never giving similar criminals the same treatment if they were in the army’s shoes in other documentaries and news specials. Shoot, the UNICEF fly (here goes that Trevor Noah joke again) is probably the LEAST offensive thing in the forced message of this film. The Testimony may have some good intentions, but how the situation was portrayed came off as a massive appeal to emotion instead of bringing enough cold hard truth.

For the victims of those rapists, I hope they get justice. For the filmmakers who went hard against the DRC army, I hope you have the same kind of vitriol against others who do the same thing or at the very least accused of those atrocities.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like stories with women fighting back against their oppressors.
Subtract 1-3 points if savvy about skewed documentaries.

-Nice camera work
-Powerful stories (for those telling the truth)
-Inspiring courage from the women

-Important questions not considered
-Appeals way too much to emotions
-Discounting roots to the wars and troubles in the DRC

Final Score: 5/10 points

Content Warning: The Testimony got a TV-PG rating on Netflix, but I really question that given the subject matter involved. Rape is a major element that is discussed throughout the trials. There’s talk about violence and murder against women and children in some graphic ways. There’s also an example of nudity in one picture near the end of the film.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Testimony is property of Vanessa Block, Escape Artists, and Netflix. The screenshot is from Facebook and is property of Escape Artists and Netflix.

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