Documentarian Martin Doblmeier continues to toil away in relative obscurity making thoughtful documentaries about faith, spirituality and compassion. Although he has completed 25 films to date, the International Movie Database (IMDb.com), for example, only lists three. Doblmeier's deep interest in the subjects he chooses to make documentaries about is readily apparent in his work. He often spends a year or more on each project finely honing the film's focus. The Power of Forgiveness is no exception.
Eighteen months in the making, The Power of Forgiveness includes interviews with a number of religious and academic experts on forgiveness, and documents several real life examples of forgiveness in practice: Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland learning forgiveness as part of a school curriculum; the Amish community of Lancaster, PA forgiving the man who killed five schoolgirls and wounded five others; the Chancellor of Germany humbly asking the Israeli Knesset for forgiveness for the atrocities committed by the Nazis; the efforts of some 9/11 families to come to terms with the disposal of World Trade Center debris in a common landfill and their efforts to build a forgiveness garden; and the story of the father of a murder victim and the grandfather of the murderer who have reached over eight million students to date with their message of forgiveness and non-violence.
Beyond the personal stories of forgiveness in action, the documentary includes experts grappling with some of the more difficult questions. Are repentance and acknowledgement necessary for forgiveness? Can there be forgiveness without justice? Does everyone deserve forgiveness or are some beyond it? Doblmeier, does a good job of tackling these questions in an engaging manner that sometimes suggests a preferred answer, but never insists upon it.
Some of the experts that Doblmeier interviews are able to match their expertise with personal experience. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suffered the death of close friends and followers at the hands of the Communist regime in Vietnam, while Professor Everett Worthington's mother was brutally murdered in her home by an intruder. Both men describe how they came to grips with the tragedies and put their philosophy of forgiveness into practice in their teachings.
The weakest element of the film is Doblmeier's attempt to match the giving or withholding of forgiveness with health outcomes. He provides some material that supports the intuition that people that forgive are healthier than those that don't, but the hard evidence provided is scant. If this theory of the health benefits of forgiveness is correct, Doblmeier should have been able to provide better scientific corroboration for it than he does.
The disc is presented in a letterboxed 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image quality generally looks above average. There are no subtitles on this disc.
The audio is presented in an acceptable 2.0 stereo mix which clearly captures the dialogue with no noticeable dropouts or distortion.
The longest extra is a twelve-minute speech by Desmond Tutu at the Washington National Cathedral about the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa. There are also a number of brief deleted scenes under the title One More Thought; an interview with the director about his motivation for the film; and, trailers for other films.
Martin Doblmeier's The Power of Forgiveness provides a thoughtful yet subtle argument in favor of forgiveness. The documentary grapples with issues of who deserves forgiveness and on what terms, and provides several examples of forgiveness in practice. Although Doblmeier provides a weak case for the health benefits of practicing forgiveness, the film succeeds on every other level.