On A Journey Toward Healing

Long Night's Journey Into Day is now playing at the UC Theatre, 2036 University Ave. The filmmakers will be at the Friday, August 25 screening to answer questions about the film. Call 843-3456 for more information.

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Imagine this: you are the mother of one of the murdered anti-apartheid

activists now known as the Cradlock Four. After the painful ordeal of not

knowing the identity of your son's killer, you meet him face-to-face in a

televised courtroom hearing. There he admits to killing your son and hopes

that you, along with a national "truth" tribunal, grant him amnesty. He

wants to be forgiven.

How exactly, you wonder, does one forgive such atrocities?

This is the situation one mother went through at the center of Deborah

Hoffmann and Frances Reid's highly acclaimed documentary Long Night's

Journey Into Day.

The title is a metaphor for South Africa's journey from its violent,

painful past into a ripe, hope-filled future. When Apartheid finally

collapsed in South Africa, those who enforced the regime or took part in

its crimes sought amnesty. Meanwhile, their victims, like the "Cradock

Four" mother described above, wanted justice. As a compromise, the Truth &

Reconciliation Commission, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was formed to

bridge the gap left by decades of deception and violence. The TRC, whose

goal in the film is to seek a "restorative rather than retributive"

justice, tirelessly tests and preserves the courage of a nation who wants

to shed her bloody armor. Amnesty-seekers and victims' families are seen

and heard on a case-by-case basis, each side allowed its turn to speak.

The four cases profiled in this documentary are real and vivid, told

with an exactitude that is refreshing and astonishing. The filmmakers don't

shy away from the issues, no matter how grappling - I noticed more than one

grown man in the audience crying by the film's closing.

Long Night's Journey Into Day began one rainy evening with a

story Hoffmann and Reid heard on NPR. The station was airing TRC life

testimonials, and at the end, Hoffmann and Reid sat in their car in tears.

Reid recalled the moment in a phone interview with the Daily Cal.

"We were moved and riveted by what we heard - this attempt at healing

and understanding from so many people," she remembered. "It was necessary

to do this [documentary]."

Five months later, they began shooting and researching for the film.

Another catalyst spurring their idea was the Holocaust. As hard as it

is to believe that such deliberate violence and open genocide could repeat

itself even after the fall of Hitler's Third Reich, history unfolded its

unwelcome mat again in South Africa.

"It felt as if a shadow of Nazi Germany was over both the Apartheid era

and the afterwar," Hoffmann said. "There's a generation or more of people

who have never gotten over [the Holocaust]. I was so amazed that a country

was going to try something different."

What motivated them, Reid said, was "the issue of bridge building and

reconciliation - the idea of finding ways to cross cultural gulfs with

groups that have been historically divided."

Also astounding was how two American women filmmakers were able to

dissect the culture and politics of South Africa and deliver its message in

such an honest, raw manner.

"The commissioners [of the TRC] were the first to see [the film]," said

Hoffmann. "They couldn't believe the film was made by non-South Africans."

How willing were the participants in the film to be profiled,

considering the horror and loss many experienced during Apartheid?

"They were very willing - surprisingly willing - to talk to us," Reid

said. "People were really wanting to tell their stories - especially to the

rest of the world."

Long Night's Journey Into Day is not an easy film to watch.

During the film screening, audience members squirmed in their seats as

activists were shown brutally gunned down and public buildings were


Was the process of making the documentary as painful for the filmmakers

as it was for some members of the audience to watch?

"It was a labor of love," Hoffman admits. "It was such a gigantic

undertaking. The logistics of producing something 9,000 miles away was

emotionally overwhelming for us."

Hoffmann and Reid contested, however, that the hardest part of

completing the film was the challenge of relaying such a complicated story

so it would be easily understood by an audience.

"Each one of those four stories all had incredible complexity to them,"

said Reid. "This was so new and historic we felt quite a burden."

Another big challenge, she said, was communicating the stories to an

audience comprised mostly of viewers whose knowledge of South Africa and

Apartheid is mostly minimal.

Hoffmann and Reid's abilities to use Long Night's Journey Into

Day as a pathway to human emotions is remarkable. As the audience

becomes involved in the lives of the people onscreen, victims' families as

well as offenders seeking amnesty experience catharsis. Not bad for a

psychology major (Reid) and a history major (Hoffmann) who received no

formal film training at all.

In the words of Nelson Mandela in his 1994 Inaugural Address, "The time

for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms

that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us."


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