Rachel Libert, Documentarian

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 31, 2007

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Deserves props for: Directing the documentary Beyond Conviction, which films participants in a nascent restorative justice program that reunites victims and perpetrators. After playing the festival circuit, a shorter version of the film was picked up by MSNBC.

How did you find the film's subjects?

"When a victim would call about the mediation program, the person would ask them if they were interested in participating in a documentary. And if they agreed, they were put in touch with me. I actually filmed six stories, and these were the six who said they were interested. As you can imagine, there's a uniqueness to the people who participated in the film. There's a uniqueness to participating in the mediation to begin with."

I read that you were initially skeptical about the mediation program.

"I was. I couldn't imagine why you would want to know, for example, your mother's last words, details about how that person was killed. And then on the flip side, I couldn't imagine why offenders would agree. After spending six years filming this and following people, I realized they do it because they have no other way to move on. There are these lingering questions. And then I found out, you have to know, because by not knowing you imagine the worst. And by knowing the truth, you can kind of put that to rest."

How did you establish trust with the subjects?

"I filmed everyone for well over a year, so there was a lot of time to get to know each other and for a relationship to be established. I told them if there was any time they wanted the cameras turned off, they could. Also if there was anything they said that, after the fact, they didn't want included in the film, they could ask me not to include it. So there was a trust."

Do you think your presence affected the reunions?

"The participants have said they really did forget the cameras were there because they were so overwhelmed by the emotions of seeing this person. And after having been with them for more than a year, we were really part of the mediation process. We were sort of an extension in the same way the mediators were."

How did the film come together in the editing room?

"With the first cut, we focused on who was speaking. Then we started to look at the reaction shots. And then there were moments I wanted to try and pull out. With Lyndy and Tim's meeting, he's covering his face in the beginning. How do we convey, in editing, that moment when he finally looks at her? We really tried to build to that moment so you felt the dramatic impact of it, the way it felt when we were in the room. And with Angela and Angelo's meeting, we knew there was this statement he wanted to read. He was just so pre-occupied with wanting to say the right thing, so the idea was to make you feel you're in the room and finally getting to hear what this thing is he's going to say."

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