...When Eugene Carnachan, co-director and researcher, and I went to our first restorative justice conference, I was not at all prepared for what I was about to witness. To this day, of all the experiences I have had while researching and filming Restoring Hope , it is still the one memory that stays with me the most.
The victim had been savagely attacked with a baseball bat by a young offender, whose partner and infant child were in attendance. The journey the offender, the victim and their families took together - from fierce indignation, to tears, and finally an emotional apology - was so incredible that I asked facilitator Mike Hinton if what I saw was the exception rather than the rule. He replied that it was not.
New Zealand has a severe criminal recidivism problem, particularly among Maori, and traditional methods of justice are struggling to make a difference.
As an alternative model, restorative justice can be controversial, with some seeing it as offering offenders an easy way out, an opportunity to get a reduced sentence. Sadly, a small portion of participating offenders do, in fact, abuse the process in this way. However, as a community and family-centred approach, it speaks strongly to Maori culture and provides an unconventional solution that is working for many of its participants.
When I embarked on the process of making this film, I found it incredibly hard to even begin to comprehend the idea of forgiveness when facing emotions so raw and complex, especially when asked to imagine family members being the victims of violent crime. But that is exactly why I wanted to document it.
I wanted to understand how victims of heinous crimes could go from harbouring so much hatred towards the offender, to having a cup of tea together - and sometimes even embracing - at the conclusion of a restorative justice conference.
Making the film was not easy, however. We were incredibly fortunate that Mike Hinton, an expert restorative justice facilitator with a big personality, agreed to be our guide into the process.
A documentary of this nature is about 100 percent complicity from all parties; I was determined not to have to blur faces or distort voices. And so Eugene, the point man on the ground, spent an enormous amount of time with Hinton over the six months of filming, meeting victims and offenders and finding interesting cases in which both sides agreed to a conference and also agreed to be filmed.
Through sheer perseverence, we ended up with access to an amazing cross-section of cases and people.
The decision to shoot with a purely observational camera, delivering information organically through Hinton's direct engagement with colleagues and clients, was a necessary one. Filming with Hinton required us to be on our toes constantly; there was no slowing down for the cameras. If we missed something, we missed it, and there was no going back to get it again. And so while there may be some less than perfect shots, it was easily made up for by the emotional intensity of the content.
My intention with Restoring Hope was to provide a balanced and unmitigated look into New Zealand’s restorative justice model as run by an indigenous provider. Most international models focus on restitution for the victim whereas the Maori model focuses on the healing of the psychological scars caused by crime. While recidivism rates remain high in New Zealand, the rates among those who have been through restorative justice are significantly lower.