Earlier this month the film As We Forgive, a documentary about Rwanda, was released on DVD (check out the trailer here). It does not chronicle the 1994 genocide, but what has come after: Rwanda's struggle to rebuild itself.
Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame, is following a path of reconciliation, not punishment, to make his country whole: In 2005, he released nearly 60,000 genocide prisoners who admitted their crimes and apologized to their communities. Within that context, this film focuses on the theme of forgiveness. Can a woman not only forgive the man who killed her husband, her child, her mother, but accept him as her friend and neighbor? Can a man forgive himself for the brutal act he committed when neither the state nor his victim is asking for payment? Is closure possible here? As We Forgive, which won the 2008 Student Academy Award for best documentary, grapples with these complex issues.
The filmmaker, Laura Waters Hinson, took an impromptu trip to Rwanda while pursuing a master in filmmaking at American University. She expected to find stories of devastation, and found stories of hope instead. As We Forgive has since been shown in Congress, at the State Department and in dozens of universities, churches and communities nationwide. In July, Hinson premiered As We Forgive in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the genocide. To her surprise, more than 5,000 Rwandans packed into the stadium to view the film. Since then, every major Rwandan government and non-profit agency working on reconciliation has partnered with Hinson and her team.
Additionally, Hinson has launched the Living Bricks Campaign, a practical reconciliation project to help repentant ex-genocide prisoners construct much-needed housing for the survivors in their community. She also began the 4GIVE campaign to encourage audiences to be a voice of reconciliation in their communities. Viewing "giving" as a central feature of "forgiveness," the 4GIVE campaign guides audiences to discuss the power of the 4 "gives": (give) truth + (give) mercy + (give) hope + (give) back (find more information here.
As We Forgive does not present a story of guilt and pity, but of absolution and rebirth. Forgiveness might be divine, but in Rwanda, it is also human.