YES! Film Picks :: The Power of Forgiveness

See more of our favorite films of the season:

:: What Would Jesus Buy?   :: Beyond Elections

The Power of Forgiveness
Directed by Martin Doblmeier, 2008, 78 minutes

Watch the trailer.

Film still from The Power of Forgiveness

I’ve always been ambivalent about forgiveness. It’s a nice idea, but in practice, I’m skeptical. Like many of us who spend our lives working for peace and social justice, I get energy from my righteous anger. “If you’re not angry,” we cry, “you’re not paying attention!”

And yet, if we are paying attention, we notice that our carefully tended anger at injustice merely begets more resentment and ultimately leads nowhere. “It is not possible,” Rev. James Forbes observes in The Power of Forgiveness, “to achieve by anger and revenge what the soul is longing for.”

This thoughtful film recounts the stories of people who have suffered almost unbearable losses and invites us into their struggles to forgive. We experience how the British government’s failure to acknowledge a 1973 shooting of six Northern Irish men leaves a community wrestling with pain three decades later. We watch an Amish community extend compassion to the family of a man who killed five of their children and wounded five more in a school shooting, and learn how three women who lost sons and husbands in the 9/11 attacks search for strength to forgive.

The film also explores the life journeys of Holocaust-survivor Elie Wiesel and Vietnam War-survivor Thich Nhat Hanh. Both found so much power in forgiveness that they have made it the centerpiece of their life’s work, Wiesel through peace activism, and Thich Nhat Hanh by promoting nonviolence.

Such stories of hard-won compassion are interwoven with research, such as the pioneering work of educational psychologist Robert Enright, who has tested simple lessons on forgiveness among Irish Catholic and Protestant schoolchildren.

The film teaches skeptics like me that forgiveness is nothing like being “nice” or complacent about injustice. To forgive, as Marianne Williamson tells us, is “to have the moral grandeur and spiritual audacity … to hold [those who do evil] accountable in appropriate ways … but to nevertheless stand for the possibility of human redemption that turns even the hardest hearts.”

Carol Estes wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Carol is a contributing editor at YES! Magazine.

Interested? See the trailer of this award-winning film.

Photo of Carol Estes

Image from the film What Would Jesus Buy?
What Would Jesus Buy?

Warrior Poets Productions, 2008, 91 min.

Follow the infamously funny Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping on a trek across the country that uses farce to spread an urgent message: Stop shopping, accruing debt, and polluting the cheer and faith of Christmas with consumerism. Hallelujah!

YES! film iconWatch the trailer.
The Shopocalypse is coming …


Image from the film Beyond Elections
Beyond Elections

PM Press/Estreito Meios Productions, 2008, 104 min.

To the activists interviewed in Beyond Elections, democracy is more than mere voting: It is having a say in daily decisions that affect our lives. Members of cooperatives describe the power of participating in workplace decisions. Delegates to a constitutional assembly discuss reforming government to include historically disenfranchised poor people. And citizens tell how their communities have benefited from participatory budgeting.


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