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South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 1994 to mediate between those seeking amnesty from apartheid-related crimes and the families of their victims. The Commission faces the daunting task of assessing justice beyond the letter of the law and using character judgement as its main criteria for granting amnesty. This documentary examines four cases (out of 7000) brought before the Commission.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
How does a nation adjust after four decades of state-sponsored murder? How should the law now regard perpetrators - both black and white - of crimes committed under this regime? What can be achieved by murderers confronting their victim's families? Is there room to forgive those who took away loved ones? These are the questions posed in one of the most emotionally charged documentaries I have ever seen. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes the Commission's task as 'getting truth so we can heal'. And there is much to heal - sobering statistics inform us that 7000 applications have been made for TRC hearings. The first of four cases examined involves Amy Biehl, a white scholar and social activist from California who was murdered by a group of blacks unaware of her support for their political aims. When Amy's parents meet the killers her father explains that compassion will preserve his daughter's memory and help the healing. His dignity and courage will move many to tears. The last case is the most heart-wrenching. A policeman, Thapelo Mbelo, faces the mothers of the Guguleto 7, a group of blacks he helped gun down. Like many blacks, Mbelo betrayed his own people - a fact not lost on some of the victim's mothers for whom there is no forgiving. Another says that looking her son's killer in the eye and seeing his abject plea is the start of her own forgiveness. The footage is devastating; the emotion overwhelming. Without judging the TRC, filmmakers Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid let their subjects speak for themselves. Although we may doubt the sincerity of some applicants, the bravery of individuals and a government to participate is extraordinary. It is a process of 'restorative justice' that seeks to learn lessons from a terrible history of hate. Do not miss this powerful, important film about the legacy of a system the world must hope it never sees again.

Review by Andrew L. Urban
If you were ever doubtful of the social, political or cultural value or power of movies, if ever you thought movies were ‘just movies’ this film will change your mind. For two big reasons. First, it is a film that documents some of the more extraordinary outcomes of the end of apartheid. As Desmond Tutu puts it in the film, the TRC is seeking restorative justice, as opposed to retributive justice. This is not a mere nicety: the difference is enormous. It is a film that highlights the worst evils and the greatest redemptive powers of humankind, all within an hour and a half. That such a magnanimous result can come from such a hideous malformation of violent, political oppression is humbling. The second reason comes from the mouth of Eric Taylor, a former security officer and one of the (white) murderers of the so called (black) Cradock 4. He tells us how it was Alan Parker’s 1988 film, Mississippi Burning*, that made him think about and recognise the error of his ways. His job as a policeman was to protect, "not to assassinate". In a nutshell, this brief moment in Long Night’s Journey Into Day reveals the power of film as a medium for enormous change – change which begins in the heart of one man, and can engulf the world. And if Eric Taylor’s abject confession is illuminating, Peter & Linda Biehl’s ability to forgive is hearty-wrenchingly noble. The parents of the young American woman murdered by four black youths, the Biehls not only forgave their daughter’s killers, they travelled to South Africa and helped ensure that genuine reconciliation was achieved. They pursued the same ideal as their daughter and have enriched us all by their actions. The documentary of these glimpses into one aspect of the aftermath of the death of apartheid is a reminder of the importance of journalism as well as filmmaking, and the power of both the ‘pen’ and the ‘camera’. If you want to be moved and stirred, take this journey.

* In Alan Parker's film, Mississippi Burning, Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe play FBI investigators who try to solve the murder of three civil rights workers amidst the fires of racial hatred, a story based on the 1964 murders of three young black men in Mississippi.

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DOCUMENTARY FEATURING: Peter & Linda Biehl, Mongezi Manqina, Evelyn Manqina, Easy Nofemela, Eric Taylor, Nomonde Calata, Desmond Tutu, and many more

DIRECTORS: Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman

PRODUCER: Frances Reid

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ezra Jwili and Frances Reid

EDITOR: Deobrah Hoffman


RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 20, 2001 in Sydney & Melbourne; other states to follow

Grand Jury Prize (Documentary) – Sundance 2001

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