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doc talk | peter keough

Doc Talk: Genocide, fraud, and a historic election

A scene from “The Trial of Ratko Mladic.”
A scene from “The Trial of Ratko Mladic.”(GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Those who believe with Martin Luther King Jr. and Theodore Parker that “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice” might find affirmation of that hope in Henry Singer and Rob Miller’s “The Trial of Ratko Mladic.”

From 1992 to 1995, Mladic, leader of the Serbian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia, was responsible for the slaughter of countless Muslims, including the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, in July 1995.

After the war Mladic eluded justice for 16 years, only being apprehended in 2011. In 2012 his trial began in the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. More than five years later, on November 22, 2017, he was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison.

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Singer and Miller’s documentary shows some of the trial’s most heartbreaking testimony, starting with a young man who as a child witnessed the destruction of his village and the execution of all the adult male inhabitants, including his father and uncle. He breaks down and says he has recurring dreams about his father’s death, but in them he was always turned away from him. The night before his appearance in court he says that he had the dream again, and this time saw his father’s face.

“The Trial of Ratko Mladic” can be seen on PBS’s “Frontline” on March 19 at 9 p.m. and online.

Blood simpletons

In the opening scene of Alex Gibney’s “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” Elizabeth Holmes answers an interviewer’s questions with charm and ingenuousness. You can see how she deceived so many otherwise shrewd and powerful people into supporting and financing Theranos, her purportedly revolutionary blood-testing company. Passionate, charismatic, her hypnotic eyes wide with zeal and idealism (some say she never blinked), she only falters when asked “Do you have any secrets?” 

Indeed she did, but before they were uncovered she had convinced big names like former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former Senate majority leader Bill Frist to join her board of directors and amassed hundreds of millions of dollars from smitten investors. Among them were Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Rupert Murdoch, and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. They had faith in Holmes’s invention, a mysterious black box that she claimed could perform hundreds of tests using just a pin-prick of blood. It would save patients the delays, uncertainties, and inflated prices of dealing with corporate monopolies and strike a blow for reforming the country’s heath care system.

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In 2014, her company was worth $9 billion. Now she is facing trial for fraud and if convicted could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Gibney rightly focuses on the “fake it till you make it’’ philosophy behind much of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurialism, the combination of chutzpah and canniness that brought success to geniuses like Steve Jobs but also gave credence to charlatans like Holmes. But he also touches on the disturbing, determined willingness of the American people to be deceived, even those who should know better, even when all the facts prove that their beliefs are folly. Holmes’s victims did not look inside the black box, and even if they had, it probably would not have made a difference.

“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” can be seen on March 18 at 9 p.m. on HBO. The film will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.

Making herstory

Before she had sparked controversy for comments perceived as anti-Semitic, before her political profile had risen so high that Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro declared that her hijab might be in violation of the Constitution, Ilhan Omar was a long-shot Democratic candidate for Minnesota state representative. She ended up the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States in a victory that was one of the few bright spots for Democrats in the 2016 elections.

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Norah Shapiro’s documentary “Time for Ilhan” follows Omar’s path to victory as it happened in real time. It is a suspenseful immersion into an unlikely, grass-roots campaign and a first glimpse at an up-and-coming leader — now one of the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress — who is already making a difference.

“Time for Ilhan” is available on DVD and VOD . Go to www.timeforilhanfilm.com.


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com