During a 2005 trip to Rwanda with her church congregation, local filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson heard stories of reconciliation between survivors of the 1994 genocide and its perpetrators. She was so struck by the idea of people forgiving the murderers of family and friends that, once back home, she began recruiting a team and raising funds for a documentary on the subject.
Three years after her first trip to Rwanda, Hinson’s film, As We Forgive, nabbed a Student Academy Award for best documentary. The film will be shown this Sunday as part of the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival. We talked to Hinson about her film, what she loves about Washington, and what subject she might tackle next.
Name: Laura Waters Hinson
Occupation: Filmmaker, winner of a Student Academy Award for the documentary As We Forgive.
Hometown: Destin, Florida
Must-have item at all times:
The iPhone. It’s a beautiful thing.
Finish this sentence: When not working, you can find me …
… thinking about working or hanging out with my incredible husband.
Washingtonians you admire?
All the young people who move to DC with hopes of changing the world for the better. This is the most idealistic city in the world.
Favorite neighborhood in the city?
Capitol Hill—you’ve got parking, families, lovely parks, colorful houses, my best friends, and Eastern Market!
Washington insider tip?
Go to Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast. Everyone knows this place for its food and ambience, but I love that you can get a wonderful bottle of house red for just $18.
Finish this sentence: “Thinking about the Metro makes me . . .
. . . fantasize about free parking and city roads where traffic lights are always green.
Well, how about traveling exhibits? ‘Body Worlds’ is one of the most incredible exhibitions I’ve ever seen in my life.
What would you change about DC?
The crime. I’ve had five or six friends held up at gunpoint and robbed in the past two years. I love DC, but I wish we could walk in our neighborhoods at night without fear.
As you answer these questions, what Web sites are open in your browser?
Oh, my. Drudge Report, Google Calendar, MapQuest, Kayak, the Washington Post, the Birchmere, of course Asweforgivemovie.com, and about 20 others. I’m bad with screen management.
What’s your daily routine like?
I have the best job in the world because I’m self-employed and work from home. I set my own schedule, and every day is different from the next, which I love. When people hear that I’m a filmmaker, they often say, ‘Oh, what an exciting job you have!’ If they only knew how much e-mailing, calling, begging, searching for funding, and long periods without pay is entailed! But those moments of presenting my work to a live audience make all the trials and tribulations worth it. To engage viewers in conversations about the themes expressed in my film is a true joy, and thankfully, I’ll be doing a lot of that this fall.
How did the idea for your documentary, As We Forgive, come about?
On a trip to Rwanda in 2005, I heard a story that astonished me even more than the nation’s devastating genocide. Beginning in 2003, the Rwandan government began releasing from prison tens of thousands of genocide murderers who had confessed to their crimes. Daunted by an overwhelming backlog of court cases, Rwanda’s leaders saw little choice for full justice and turned their sights to reconciliation. When I heard this, I wondered, “Can this even be true? Is it possible for survivors of genocide to forgive the killers?” This question haunted me so much that I decided to spend the next year raising funds for a documentary that would explore the lives of ordinary Rwandans who were on a journey to forgive the neighbors who’d slaughtered their families.
What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film?
Shooting in Rwanda was really an incredible process. I expected everything to go wrong, but instead, it seemed that each part fell into place, like this film was meant to be made. The biggest challenge definitely came when I returned home with 55 hours of footage, most of it in an African language that very few people on the planet speak, and trying to edit it in my bedroom at night. Those were some dark days!
Are you mostly interested in documentaries, or do you see yourself going into other movie genres?
I love documentaries because I love stories of people overcoming extraordinary odds. However, I am also compelled by fiction films that tell tales of redemption and hope. I am exploring options of working in development on feature dramatic films, but I am definitely keeping my eye out for another documentary to direct. Documentaries can easily take over your life for a number of years, so it has to be the right idea.
You’ve won a Student Academy Award for As We Forgive. What are you going to do next?
No pressure, right? Honestly, I think the success of As We Forgive is based largely on the transcendence of Rwanda’s story of reconciliation. It simply blows people away that some Rwandans are choosing to forgive after genocide. My dream is to continue making movies, either documentary or fiction, that transform hearts and speak universally to audiences about hope, faith, and love.
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