neighborAustralia’s largest film festival is held every year in Melbourne in the depths of winter. Despite the icy chill of August, the Melbourne International Film Festival is one of my favourite times to be in town. I love seeing the snaking queues of black-clad cinephiles and feeling the palpable buzz of anticipation all around the CBD, plus of course the vast range of films available in six cinemas every day for three weeks is enough for one blogger to get really over-excited.

This year RM and I decided to join as MIFF members and it has been the best decision for our social life. For $145 (annual double membership) we get the chance to view two pre-release movies every month, there are often additional film/theatre/music passes to be won, we get concession prices at most major cinemas in Melbourne, discounted Festival Mini Pass (10 films) and tonight we discovered a really great benefit – priority queueing! No more waiting in the cold for 30 minutes to ensure a good seat.

Our first MIFF film was My Neighbor, My Killer, a thought-provoking documentary about the process of reconciliation and forgiveness in Rwanda. In April 1994 the Hutus ethnic majority in Rwanda were incited to murder their fellow citizens, the Tutsi minority. Over 100 days, two thirds of Rwanda’s Tutsis were slaughtered with machetes and clubs by their family, friends and strangers, with no discrimination beteween men, women or children.

Ten years after the Rwandan genocide, the Rwandan government put in place the Gacaca tribunals, open-air hearings where citizens judged and tried their neighbours. The purpose of the community-based approach was to begin the process of coexistence again. In practice, it’s arguable that there was no other choice but a community court, as there were only a handful of legally trained survivors and most of the murderers (something like 800,000 people) were able-bodied men whose strength was required for the physical labour necessary to rebuild the nation.

The film maintains an admirably neutral tone as survivors and confessed genocide killers are interviewed, but it’s glaringly obvious that the Gagaca tribunals have been ineffective in serving justice or aiding the process of forgiveness. The women who have survived have seen their husbands and children killed in front of them, by people they know in the community, and left alone to carry on they are depressed, bitter and angry. Their accused are often defensive about their actions, or blatantly lie, and their sentences are often not commiserate with their crimes.

My Neighbor, My Killer was a superb film which left me contemplating the difficulties facing Rwanda and its peopleĀ  today. Unfortunately there are no easy answers and perhaps the only way forward is to let time heal.