The Power of Forgiveness (2008)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Martin Doblmeir
Run Time
1 hour and 2 minutes

I am reprinting the review portion of this older film because it is so topical today. The full review in the Summer 2008 issue of Visual Parables has 27 discussion questions, more than any other of the 1100+ films on this site! You can purchase this issue (it has over 30 other reviews) at The Visual Parables Store. This is a great film for a retreat!

Unrated documentary. Running time: 1 hour 18 min—plus several extra DVD features.

Our star rating (0-5): 5

 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

Martin Doblmeir, the maker of the excellent documentary Bonhoeffer, has gifted us with another powerful film, this time exploring a theme central to Christian ethics and theology— forgiveness. The film also reminds us, in case any of us are so parochial that we think this is an exclusively Christian doctrine, that forgiveness is a theme central to all of the major faiths. Among the many witnesses to the power of forgiveness that are interviewed are: Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese activist and Buddhist teacher; Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate; Azim Khamisa a Sufi Muslim teacher and father of a murdered son; the Rev. James Forbes, pastor of Riverside Church; Thomas Moore, author of the best-selling Care of the Soul, speaking on forgiveness from a more general spiritual perspective; plus several others in Northern Ireland, New York City (at Ground Zero, Twin Trade Towers), and Lebanon.

Forgiveness is not just a spiritual or religious theme, either, the film asserts. In fact filmmaker Martin Doblmeir was inspired to make the film when in 2004 he attended a Templeton Foundation-sponsored conference in Georgia exploring the medical and health aspects of forgiveness. For the next two years he traveled the globe interviewing persons about their experiences, asking them about forgiveness as a means for dealing with their anger over great wrongs, and sorrow and grief. In one segment he brings together the spiritual and the scientific disciplines, disclosing how hundreds of experiments have been conducted on the medical aspects of forgiveness. In a brain scan the pleasure portions of the brain lights up when the person is thinking of revenge, and we see several subjects of another experiment in which their blood pressure rises when they recall a person who has wronged them, whereas those who forgive have a normal blood pressure when they recall a past wrong.

Even better, the film provides examples of forgiveness that move us beyond the laboratory and the classroom or sanctuary. In New York City three women, two who lost sons and the other her husband on 9-11, speak of their anger, then sorrow, and finally forgiveness as they join with Episcopal minister Rev. Lyndon Harris to lobby for a “Garden of Forgiveness” at Ground Zero in Manhattan—not at all a popular cause in the city. The Rev. Harris is rector at St. Paul’s Chapel, so close to Ground Zero that its building served as a spiritual center for many of the personnel working at the site. The three women travel to Beirut, Lebanon, where woman activist Alexandra Asseily’s dream of “A Garden of Forgiveness” was being fulfilled. Knowing first hand the power of hatred during the long period of strife and war in her country, Ms. Asseily says, “Forgiveness allows us to actually let go of the pain in the memory, and if we let go of the pain in the memory, we can have the memory, but it doesn’t control us.”

Just how one can “let go of the pain in the memory” is powerfully demonstrated in the episode narrated by Azim Khamisa, an American Muslim whose son was murdered by a 14 year-old boy while delivering a pizza. When Mr. Khamisa visits the young murderer in jail, he also meets the boy’s grieving grandfather Ples Felix. The man is so relieved to be forgiven by the father of the dead boy that he joins him to form a team ministry to visit school children to speak on the need and the benefits of forgiveness. As Tony Hicks, the imprisoned killer, speaks on camera about being forgiven, tears flow from his eyes. Mr. Khamisa is trying to get the courts to reduce Tony’s 25-year sentence, assuring them that he will give the young man a job working with the forgiveness foundation that he and Mr. Felix run.

Other places of terrible wrongs that are visited are Northern Ireland and Pennsylvania where the Amish community forgave the man and his family who murdered five girls and wounded five others. In Germany Elie Wiesel, who once declared that those who murdered so many of his people must never be forgiven, addresses the Bundestag, his speech culminating with his statement that the German government, despite reparations and such, has never asked for the forgiveness of the Jewish people. Two weeks later the German President journeys to Israel. where he addresses the Israeli Parliament, the essence of his speech being a formal apology for the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis.

Filmmaker Martin Doblmeir reminds us, “We are living in a culture of payback and justice. 9/11 shows us that. Lives are being lost.” We are indeed in a culture of vengeance, one that teaches “Don‘t get mad, get even,” and this film is a marvelous tool that Presbyterians can use for countering the vindictive urge to “pay back.” The film is being shown on PBS during March, and is available for purchase on DVD. There is enough material in the film and in the special sections of the DVD for a provocative series of six to twelve sessions. This is a film that can help bring healing to those caught in the vise of anger and resentment. It does not offer easy answers, but the various insightful speakers show how forgiveness is the difficult path to spiritual (and mental and physical) wholeness. I cannot recommend this film too highly!

 DVD Extras

There are three “extra features” on the disk, any one of which could be the basis for another session. I have not timed these features, but my estimate would be that each is around ten minutes in length, making them suitable for launching a discussion for a 45-50 class.

1) Bishop Desmund Tutu speaks to the congregation of the Washington National Cathedral on the work of his nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He distinguishes between retributive justice and restorative justice, pointing out that unlike the Allies at Nuremberg who had crushed the Nazis, neither side in the long

struggle in South Africa had won a total victory. Therefore, the way of inviting perpetrators of past crimes to confess them before the public in order to receive amnesty seemed the only way to bring together the nation and foster healing. He describes several marvelous results of this policy.

2) “One More Thought” is a short collection of additional thoughts by the participants in The Power of Forgiveness. A dozen or so of these are short but evocative, a few but 30 seconds or so long, and the longest no more than 2 minutes. A leader could catalogue these by subject and use them as discussion starters for future study sessions. The short film itself could be used, the leader stopping for discussion after each sound bite.

3) “Interview With Director” is just that, Martin Doblmeir sharing the circumstances that led to his making the film and providing comments on various aspects of it. I could see using part or all of this as a way of introducing the feature film.

Reprinted from the Summer 2008 Visual Parables.

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