Rwanda - A Journey of Reconciliation
By : Cynthia La Grou
Could you forgive a person who murdered your family? This is the question faced by the subjects of As We Forgive, an award winning documentary film about Rosaria and Chantal, two ravaged Rwandan survivors coming face-to-face with the men who slaughtered their families during the 1994 genocide. 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 when neighbor turned against neighbor in one of the swiftest genocides in history, leaving nearly one million Rwandans dead and even more orphaned or widowed.

Throughout Rwanda's history, neighbors have settled disputes by adjourning to the gacaca court (pronounced ga-cha-cha; meaning "on the grass") to sit, discuss and mediate personal and community problems. The gacaca judges are respected persons selected by the community and are without legal training.

However, with prisons overflowing and courts overwhelmed by massive backlogs of court cases a decade later, Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, made a controversial decision to return 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.

But does this approach stand a chance? Can survivors truly forgive the killers who destroyed their families? Can the government expect this from its people? And can the church, which failed at moral leadership during the genocide, fit into the process of reconciliation today? In As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and narrator Mia Farrow explore these topics through the lives of four neighbors once caught in opposite tides of a genocidal bloodbath, and their extraordinary journey of reconciliation.

It all started one balmy Rwandan afternoon in August of 2005, when Laura Waters, then a master's film student at American University, met Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana. Bishop John, a leading advocate of reconciliation in Rwanda, described a reconciliation project he had established that seemed radical and, frankly, unreal. Ex-prisoners were building homes for those who not only survived the genocide, but the family members of those they killed. Laura's interest was peaked as she imagined a film that could capture for Western viewers the profound message communicated by genocide survivors and perpetrators who are reconciling and living together again as neighbors. Laura spent the next ten months raising money from family and friends, and the following summer, she returned with a small crew of student filmmakers.

Within a month, Hinson filmed 55 hours of footage, cutting it down to 53 minutes on her Mac. Her Emmy-winning composers charged her $8,000 for a score that is many times lower than the normal rate. Two families from her church gave her $18,000. Mia Farrow lent her voice to the narration, after Hinson was introduced to her through the staff of a Virginia congressman. The Rwandan president agreed to an interview on the last day of shooting. Her total cost came to $25,000, a mere fraction of what a similar documentary would cost. Laura had accomplished her goal: to test the claim that genuine reconciliation was occurring in Rwanda.

Fast forward, almost four years later and we find Laura Waters Hinson currently engaged in a nationwide screening tour, presenting As We Forgive in such places as the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate, the State Department, Library of Congress, the World Bank and at various universities and institutions. As We Forgive has garnered seven film festival awards including Gold Winner for Best Documentary at the Student Academy Awards 2008 and National Geographic All Roads Film Festival. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan horrors, As We Forgive was screened on PBS stations, including PBS WORLD around the country throughout the summer.
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