An Interview with the FilmmakerWriter and Director of BONHOEFFER
Q. How did you come to make this film?
A. Well, this film really had its origins a few years ago. Dan Juday and I went down to a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where researchers, mostly scientists, were presenting the results of the research they were doing in the world of forgiveness. You had psychologists, you had health care physicians, and what you really saw for the first time was the confluence of two worlds coming together around the topic of forgiveness. You have the tradition of the faith communities - all the great faiths talk about the value of forgiveness; they have for centuries - but now you had the scientists and the healthcare world talking about the virtue of forgiveness.
We had about a hundred story ideas that we were looking at to come up with the stories for the film. We wanted to make sure that we had stories that spoke both to the faith tradition and to the new work that was being done in science. We also wanted to do one other thing, which was to say that forgiveness works really on a couple of different dimensions. It's about one person being hurt and forgiving one other person. But sometimes too the idea forgiveness works for groups, communities, and nations. And it was a balance of that personal and collective sense of forgiveness that I thought would make for an interesting film.
Q. What was the most memorable part of the process?
A. Forgiveness is really one of the hardest things we’re asked to do, in terms of our relationships with other people. The word itself opens up the deepest chambers in our heart and soul. One of the aspects of forgiveness that I had not really thought about until I started doing the film was the aspect of self forgiveness. Even the best people have a hard time getting to forgiveness, being able to forgive themselves for what they’ve done or what they’ve failed to do. As we began to see the stories unfold, this aspect of self forgiveness seemed as though it was playing a role in each one of the stories again and again. For me it's become one of the most critical learning moments in the making of the film.
Q. What's the relationship between forgiving and forgetting?
A. Somewhere along the line the words forgive and forget got joined at the hip, and I'm not sure why. People would say to us, “I can't forget what happened, so how can I even begin to forgive?” But what we're hearing from people was not about forgetting what happened. It was about how you remember, and what you do with that memory, how you incorporate the memory of that pain and suffering and how you get over that pain, how it affects your relationships going forward. In some ways it is redeeming to feel as though you aren’t being asked to forget what happened, only to come to a new awareness of how you're going to carry forward a memory that you can't get rid of anyway most important lessons in making the film.
Q. What's the relationship between forgiveness and justice?
A. I think in the 21st century we're living in a justice-focused culture. Justice is about righting the past. But that's always done by human beings who are as imperfect as we are. So you don't always get the justice that you hope for. Sometimes you don’t get justice at all. You don't have control over it. But you do have some control over how you want to see your relationships unfolding, and that's where forgiveness can really play a big role. You have control over what you want to forgive someone for, outside of the justice program. Justice, in terms of forgiveness, is not about opening up the prisons and letting the prisoners go. You have an obligation to protect yourself and to protect your loved ones. People do terrible things, evil things. But how do you exact that justice? Is it done in a spirit of anger and revenge, or is it done with some level of balance and compassion? Sometimes getting to the world that we want to get to means not exacting a pound of flesh. Sometimes compassion and mercy actually can get us to the place we all want to get to.