Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: As We Forgive Documentary

I heard about As We Forgive, a Laura Waters Hinson documentary, through Land of 1000 Hills Coffee. The film is about an hour long and documents the experiences of two Rwandan women who lived through the 1994 genocide and then, 15 years later, came face to face with the men who had murdered their families.

The subjects of As We Forgive speak for a nation still wracked by the grief of a genocide that killed one in eight Rwandans in 1994. Overwhelmed by an enormous backlog of court cases, the government has returned over 50,000 genocide perpetrators back to the very communities they helped to destroy. Without the hope of full justice, Rwanda has turned to a new solution: Reconciliation.
A few months ago, I talked about the film, though I hadn't yet seen it, you can read my original post here: Painful Grace: As We Forgive, the movie. I actually watched the film a few weeks later.

I'm not sure how to describe it, it was as challenging as you would expect a documentary about genocide, murder, and reluctant forgiveness to be. But I admit, I was a bit surprised by how not emotional it was not. To be sure, it was an emotionally challenging film, but not to the degree I expected. I don't know if this was intentional but I think I am pleased by this.

Perhaps because it didn't rely on heavy-handed emotionalism, As We Forgive manages to be more thought-provoking than heartbreaking. I found myself considering what forgiveness looks like outside of the heart. I talk a lot about grace and forgiveness conceptually, but practically forgiveness is not always tears, pain, or peace. In fact, perhaps the most important part of forgiveness happens after you decide to forgive, when you translate it from your heart into your hands.

Sometimes forgiveness is building a house for the child of a man you murdered. Sometimes forgiveness is allowing a murderer to move back into his old village or to thresh your sorghum crop for you. Sometimes forgiveness begins with screaming at the one you hate.

I was intrigued by the decision of the Rwandan government to release the prisoners. As a Christian, I have been taught that forgiveness is obligatory but, more importantly, forgiveness is necessary for healing. I was surprised, which is now kind of embarassing, that a government organization would recognize that forgiveness was an important part of healing a nation.

Perhaps I was surprised because I have never experienced social fracturing on a national scale. I cannot imagine living in a nation where half of my friends and neighbors had not only collectively declared that I was subhuman, but committed murder and committed it against me. The anger and pain of these actions drove a wedge down the middle of the nation that could not be removed by punishing the offenders. They decided, then, that the only way to heal the nation was to forgive them.

It makes me think of a passage in the book Waterlily by Ella Cara Doloria. In this section a circle of Dakota Native Americans are considering what to do with a man in their community who murdered another man. The father of the murdered man can, according to their law, require the murderer's death. He decides instead to adopt the murder into their family to actually fill the place of the lost son. By choosing to extend this radical grace, they stop the cycle of pain and vengeance and find freedom from hate and bitterness.

More than emotionally stirring, I found As We Forgive interesting, practical and thoughtful. I was left wondering how I could use the practical tools modeled in the film and I think that is the strongest compliment I could give.

If you have seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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