Film examines issue of forgiveness after genocide

Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 12:00am
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A woman is interviewed about her experiences living through the genocide in Rwanda for the documentary 'As We Forgive.'

Laura Waters Hinson’s remarkable film As We Forgive explores a simple, yet extremely difficult issue — forgiveness in the wake of unspeakable crimes and horror.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda took the lives of one in eight people. Over a 100-day period, more than 1 million people were eventually murdered in mass killings of Tutsi and pro-peace Hutus by Hutu militias affiliated with two political parties.

But now, in the wake of more than 50,000 people involved in the genocide being released back into society, Rwanda citizens must deal with the reality of being neighbors with people who killed their families and loved ones. As We Forgive, which is narrated by actress and activist Mia Farrow, features two Rwandan women who come face to face with the men that slaughtered their families.

“Here in the West we often look at what we can teach Africa,” Hinson said. “This film says a lot about what we can learn from Africa about being human beings and forgiving. You have people who are living next door to someone that killed their children and/or their husband and they see them every day. You also have situations where people are building homes and helping the survivors of those whose relatives they slaughtered. It is the most unusual and incredible case of forgiveness and reconciliation, and it’s occurring in a place where there was so much previous bloodshed and devastation.”

Hinson, a native of Florida, made her first visit to Rwanda in 2005 as part of a church group and also a graduate student in film at American University. Years earlier, as an undergraduate at Furman University, she’d studied the Rwandan genocide in a political science class, but her arrival there gave her insights she couldn’t get in a textbook.

She also met John Rucyahana, a Rwandan Anglician bishop. Their conversation generated such a response that Hinson decided to make a film about Rwanda, one that would go far beyond simply doing a project as part of her graduate work.

It would eventually take more than three years, but As We Forgive has earned Hinson international plaudits and acclaim, including the Gold Medal Award for Documentary at the Student Academy Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As We Forgive takes a thorough and incisive look at some complex questions. Hinson talked with both victims and perpetrators, and said that one thing which continually surprised and impressed her was the fact that so many of those involved were otherwise very normal, regular and loving people.

“It’s almost like something dark and sinister was at work,” Hinson said. “It’s also a result of people following leadership and doing what they felt they had to do in order not to be killed themselves. But it would be a mistake to assume that these were some kind of inhumane maniacs because they were anything but that.”

She also cited the historical impact of Belgian colonization and their role in inflaming tribal feuds as another reason for the genocide.

“Not everyone has really bought into the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation, but it’s amazing how many people have,” Hinson said. “I’ve talked with people who can’t overlook what happened, and others who have been able to get past it. But the amazing thing is to see how much progress has been made in Rwanda. Today you have one of the least corrupt governments in Africa, the cleanest nation, and a place where efficiency and full employment are underway. It’s an incredible story of recovery and triumph alongside all the ugliness.”

Hinson said her whole life has been changed forever due to this film.

“When you see people who’ve lost everything and yet they can still forgive and live alongside the people responsible for that, it’s hard for you to talk about your hardships,” she said. “This has also changed my views about what humanity can achieve, and what’s really possible in terms of change and perseverance.”

As We Forgive will be available on DVD in October and is being shown on various public television stations throughout May. It’s also available now on the aswerforgivemovie.com Web site. In addition to the Belcourt event, another screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Harpeth Community Church, 1101 Gardner Drive, in Franklin.

What: A special screening of Laura Waters Hinson’s film As We Forgive
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: The Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave.
Cost: $6
Info: 846-3150, belcourt.org