Various experts estimate that at least 800,000 and maybe over a million people lost their lives in the chaotic weeks of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. No one in the country was untouched by tragedy, and the longing for justice is high. At one point the prison population of the small country grew to greater than 100,000, many suspected of genocide crimes. Keeping so many prisoners was a burden for Rwanda, which needed workers to rebuild the country. With the help of evangelical ministers and local village officials, the Rwandan government began releasing confessed murderers back into their villages and neighborhoods, where they are taking part in reconciliation councils. Some websites say 22,000 were released in 2003, 36,000 in 2005, and 68,000 in early 2008. No matter what the numbers, many survivors are unhappy and afraid to have the guilty among them.
As We Forgive focuses on two women who lost their families in the genocide and the two men who admitted committing the murders. One of the women embraces the process of reconciliation, saying that it is the only hope that her community and nation has. The other women is reticent, though she does agree to meet the former neighbor in a group conversation with a pastoral minister and community leaders.
In the process of discussions, the needs of both survivors and the guilty men are revealed. Mostly, the survivors need help harvesting crops, winnowing grains, and rebuilding houses, while the confessed need tasks to help them regain respect and self-respect. Agreements are reached to the pleasure of the local leaders who hope to eliminate longstanding prejudice between Tutsi and Hutu.
As We Forgive is an optimistic documentary that admits that it is rather daring to be so hopeful. Some brief scenes of the genocide are included, but the bulk of the film is set in the present. At 53 minutes, this thoughtful film is a convenient length for discussion groups who should find plenty of topics.
As We Believe. MPower Pictures, 2009.