Reconciled in Rwanda
John enters the room with his hands clasped high on his chest. He sits across from Chantale and begins the conversation they both have been afraid of for years.
"I did a terrible thing to you by killing your father, who was my neighbor and my friend," John says. "I had even helped prepare the feast when he received confirmation in the church. But the evil one invaded my life, and I committed this horrible crime of killing your father. I'm falling before you, begging for mercy for the crime I committed."
John, one of the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left over 1 million dead, doesn't get much sympathy—much less mercy—from his victim.
Chantale, still grieving the loss of her father all these years later, looks straight at John and says calmly, "It was meaningless to have you arrested. I regret that."
There would be no forgiveness that day. Perhaps later.
So goes one of the powerful scenes in As We Forgive, a new documentary by Laura Waters Hinson, who followed John and Chantale and others to tell the remarkable story of reconciliation taking place—slowly but surely—in Rwanda.
While on a church exchange trip to Rwanda in 2005, Hinson learned that some perpetrators of the genocide—more than 50,000 of them, including John, were freed from prison without trial—were building houses for their victims.
Rwanda is densely populated, with more than 10 million living in an area smaller than Maryland. So, Hinson says, "For a murderer to be released from prison to go home, he was really going to be shoulder to shoulder with people whose families he killed."
Hinson, a budding young filmmaker, wanted to tell those stories, but when she returned less than a year later with a camera crew, she found out she'd missed the whole thing. The houses were finished, and the owners had taken possession.
"I wanted to depict people in the process of reconciliation rather than tell about a reconciliation that had already happened," says Hinson, 29. "I knew that to have a powerful film, you need to show something happening in transition, progress being made before the camera."
Hinson had to scrap Plan A for the narrative arc of As We Forgive, a documentary about reconciliation in Rwanda, but certainly the power of the project was not lost as she and her team began to probe for other stories, like John and Chantale's.
In fact, Hinson's film won the Gold award in the documentary category of this year's Student Academy Awards, Best Documentary at the Angelus Student Film Festival, and it's about to go on tour with the National Geographic All Roads Film Project. The Congressional Black Caucus will host a screening of the film for senators, the World Bank showed it, and dozens of churches have shown it and hosted discussions on forgiveness and reconciliation with community members. Additionally, Hinson has recently partnered with Prison Fellowship International to establish the Living Bricks campaign, where viewers can donate directly to a Rwandan house building project.
Meanwhile, more plans are in the works to get the hour-long documentary broadcast in the U.S. Hinson is also working with Saddleback Church as they develop their reconciliation campaign in southern Rwanda. And Hinson's two-person production company, Image Bearer Pictures, doesn't even have a PR person.
Hinson knows she's on to something. "I feel like I'm just at the beginning of this thing. And the film isn't even formally distributed yet."
Making the film
The behind-the-scenes hero of Hinson's story may well be Emmanuel Kwizera, Hinson's driver/translator/ambassador. "He ended up being the key to our entire shoot," says Hinson. "He would go into the homes of these widows who had lost everything in their lives—their children had been slaughtered, their husbands had been shot in the head or macheted to death, clubbed to death.