Mass Crimes Documentary Project


For the past five years, Seniors in Whitfield’s Human Rights & Genocide course spend the last seven weeks of the school year working on the Mass Crimes Documentary Film Project. This year was no exception. In fact, according to Dr. Michal Kwiecień, despite navigating the transition to eLearning, “These students created stronger films than those from prior years when the students were able to be on campus the entire time.”

For this project students work in small groups to create documentary films, 12-20 minutes in length, focused on a specific mass crime in modern world history including genocides, ethnic cleansing campaigns, forced migrations, deportations, mass killings, kidnappings, and exploitations.

Once topics are chosen, students conduct in-depth research utilizing primary and secondary sources. Each group submits a thoroughly researched, narrative script and storyboard for review before beginning their film.

“I am super proud of these students for their perseverance and the quality of their work,” said Dr. Kwiecień.  “There were also students in this class who selected topics from regions and countries that we didn’t study in class—that was extremely brave.”

To be successful, a film must meet several criteria including: a persuasive thesis, clear identification of the main historical actors, (victims, perpetrators, bystanders/witnesses), an explanation as to why the mass crime occurred, how the perpetrators justified it, and how the international community reacted or did not react to it.

In a typical year, each group would present their completed documentary to an audience of their peers, faculty, and staff. In addition, the films would be evaluated by a panel of faculty and a small group of finalists would be selected to present their projects at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

“Since the students did not have a chance to present their work on campus or at the Holocaust Museum, all of the films are available online for the Whitfield community to view,” said Dr. Kwiecień. (Click here to view the films).

In their reflections, seniors emphasized the relevance of the project to their preparation for college and beyond.

“I think every senior should take this class as it really opens your eyes to the real world,” said Naya Shacham. “This was a very challenging project, especially since we couldn’t be together to work on it. We all just decided to work incredibly hard and were really motivated to finish the year strong. I was really happy with our group and the way our film turned out.”

“We need a class like this so that we can have a more global perspective on human rights,” said Kaelyn Beeman. “No matter what field we go into, we need to learn about, and learn how to talk about, difficult topics like genocide. Knowing how to have tough conversations in a respectful way helps better prepare us for college and for life.”

Marissa Hughes, Kylie Wagner, Ellie WesterlinA Terrifying Reality: The Bosnian Genocide

Danny Chen, Mahlet Fentaw, Elijah Sykes, Naya ShachamGenocide of Aboriginals in Australia

Max Holton, Anya Mehta, Abby MorganMisery Exposed: The Horror of Nazi Medical Experimentation

Phoebe Ferris, Audrey Jennings, Owen TaylorCambodian Genocide: The Ongoing Genocide

 Ellie Lefton, Maddie Seemiller, Ryan Smith, Ben WeasThe Armenian Genocide: The Danger of Denialism

Peter McKown, Ross Pohlman, Carter Terry, Robbie WetzelThe Holodomor: Stalin’s Secret Genocide

Olivia Barnes, Kaelyn Beeman, Adèle Hartmann, Mohan Li – Bangladesh: A Nation Born from Genocide

Maddison Kimbrough, Levi Rose, Sam McClellanThe Al-Anfal Genocide

Caden Bush, Connor McAteer, Drew Newlin, Nic TaylorThe Holocaust: Chelmno & Sobibor

Adam Lauer, Eric Ruff, Max WildEthiopia: The Buried Genocide

Julia Chrysler, Tyler Harris, Emily Underwood, Rebecca ZlepperThe Ethnic Cleansing of Bosniaks

Mia Dalton, Davide Pace, Steven Shaw, Nina SteinbergThe Holodomor