Daughter helps dad document Rwanda feature

December 22, 2009

By Tim Pfarr

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Narcisse Ruhangintwari, a Hutu, killed his neighbor Pascal Niyomugabo’s wife, who was of Tutsi decent, according to Seattle-based Rwanda Partners. After the 100-days of genocide was over, Niyomugabo had lost 75 other family members.But when he got remarried years later, Niyomugabo invited Ruhangintwari to his wedding, said filmmaker and Beaver Lake resident Mark Stendal. The two men remain close friends.

You might wonder how anyone could forgive someone for killing a loved one. It happened because of Rwanda Partners, a Seattle-based, nonprofit organization that works with Rwandans to develop and implement programs for reconciliation and reducing poverty.

“If he can forgive him, then there’s hope for us all,” said Tracy Stone, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

Stendal and his daughter, Sam Stendal, a Skyline High School junior, spent 10 days filming and traveling in Rwanda last June. A film they made, “Wounded Healers: How Do You Forgive the Unforgivable,” premiered Dec. 3 at McCaw Hall in Seattle and, according to Stone, it has already inspired people in Australia, Lebanon and California to show it to audiences there.

“Wounded Healers” chronicles the lives of five Rwandan genocide survivors and perpetrators through their hurt, hatred and forgiveness, and shows how they are now using their painful experiences to heal other Rwandans.

“It’s a film about forgiveness,” Mark Stendal said. “The people in Rwanda really needed their hearts mended.”

Stendal, who has worked in television and media production for about 25 years, filmed with a small crew from Rwanda Partners, as well as a couple of editors, to make the film. Once back home, he edited the film on the side, as he works full time for a production company. But he said the many late nights and long hours were worth it.

“The power of the medium is so strong,” he said. “If I can use my skills to help other people, it’s very rewarding.”

He said he chose to make the film for Rwanda Partners partly because he had done work for them before, but partly because he understood the need to tell the story.

“You think you’re going to Rwanda to help the people of Rwanda, but you realize that the people of Rwanda helped you,” he said.

His daughter accompanied as an assistant, caring for children at shoot locations and helping with various other things.

The experience — she met survivors and perpetrators — gave her a greater perspective to apply to her life in Sammamish. It helps her more easily deal with American teenage issues, like getting in a text-message argument with friends, not getting the car for the night or having to get up early.

“It’s not just about entertainment. It’s a message people need to hear,” she said. “It’s too important to hide.”

Sam said her friends were confused about how Pascal and Narcisse could reconcile. She said all you have to do is look at the media and Hollywood to see why people in the West have trouble forgiving even the smallest of things, such as a driver cutting you off on the road.

“I really enjoyed explaining it to them,” she said.

Mark Stendal and Stone said the film is not a happy one, but it will open people’s eyes to the atrocities in Rwanda. They said they hope it acts as a mirror for viewers and may lead them to consider forgiving people in their own lives.

“It’s not an easy film to watch, but I think it’s important,” he said. “For good things to happen, it’s not always easy, but it’s worth the journey.”

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