NEAL CONAN, host:
Filmmaker Charles Oliver focuses on restorative justice in his new movie "Take." The film takes place over two days, seven years apart. A desperate gambler and a struggling mother remember the day that he murdered her son and another man in a botched robbery.
On the second day, the mother, played by Minnie Driver, drives to the prison and asks to meet her son's killer minutes before his execution.
(Soundbite of movie, "Take")
Ms. MINNIE DRIVER (Actor): (As Ana Nichols) (unintelligible)
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) I understand you would like to see the prisoner.
Ms. DRIVER: (As Nichols) No. I want to speak to him.
Unidentified Man: (As character) Well, that's not a good idea.
Ms. DRIVER: (As Nichols) (Unintelligible) I need to talk to him.
Unidentified Man: (As character) Okay, I understand what he did to you, to your son. And it must be very difficult, but I can't, I'm afraid.
Ms. DRIVER: (As Nichols) You have no idea. I pray every night that he suffers the same thing I endure. Every morning when I wake up, I don't see my son. I don't see my husband. I see him. I (unintelligible) see him.
CONAN: The director and the film's star, that's Charles Oliver and Minnie Driver, join us in a moment and we'll take more of your calls. If you have first-hand experience with restorative justice, our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com.
You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And still with us is Lisa Rae, the president of the Justice and Reconciliation Project. "Take" made its world premiere last Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Director Charles Oliver and its star, Minnie Driver, join us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you both on the program today.
Mr. CHARLES OLIVER (Director): Thank you.
Ms. DRIVER: Nice to be here.
CONAN: And Charles Oliver, congratulations on - this, as I understand, your directorial debut, or at least your feature film debut. No small thing.
Mr. OLIVER: No, not at all. Thank you.
CONAN: And what was the response like at the film festival?
Mr. OLIVER: Oh, it was wonderful. It's really wonderful to, you know, see such a large group of people respond to the film at once. It's sort of surreal but also very rewarding. So thank you.
CONAN: Must be a little scary too.
Mr. OLIVER: That's putting it mildly, yeah.
CONAN: Minnie Driver, let me ask you. What did you make of the reception?
Ms. DRIVER: You know, I've opened a few films, and particularly when there's a Q&A afterwards, often people stick around, and everybody stayed and everybody asked questions. And there was a real, there's a real feeling in the theater of people lost in thought, I felt, at the screening, which was very rewarding because I think that's - I think that's what Charles meant, I mean partly, to get people thinking about this idea of restorative justice and compassion.
CONAN: Is that what you're in, Charles?
Mr. OLIVER: Oh, absolutely. I was very interested in finding a way to sort of make people think about the ideas of revenge and resentment and forgiveness, so I was very pleased to see that people had a lot of questions, and very earnest and anxious to talk about it, and that was very rewarding.
CONAN: I wonder, Minnie Driver, again, two days, seven years apart, difficult to get into the mind of a woman in the midst of the crime and then seven years later.
Ms. DRIVER: Absolutely. It was easier - it sounds terrible - it was easy to be in the moment of having your child kidnapped and taken than it was to imagine afterwards because we just can't possibly know; you can only ever make up, and through empathy, what it must be like to have such terrible crime as your child being kidnapped and then killed.
But it was a very, purely from an acting point of view, it was a very interesting journey to excavate and certainly to investigate.
CONAN: And Charles Oliver, in the process, the character of the criminal, the desperate gambler who botches this robbery and commits these murders. He appears, he goes through a transformation as well.
Mr. OLIVER: Oh, absolutely. That's the wonderful thing about restorative justice. It's very much extended to both individuals involved and I think equally cathartic for both. So...
CONAN: We're continuing our conversation - I don't know if you two had a chance to hear it earlier - about restorative justice. And I wanted to read this e-mail we got from Indiana - a woman in Indiana.
Thirty-one years ago I was raped. I have struggled with forgiveness and find that it's a many-layered process that perhaps would be more complete if I faced the man who raped me. The notion terrifies me still.
I've tried many things to deal with this black elephant in my life. How do I find out about victim impact panels in my state? Who do I contact? Most of all, I try to balance the desire to make lemonade out of this lemon versus reopening my wounds over and over by trying to work with other victims or volunteering in community education.
Lisa Rae, I wanted to bring you back in on the conversation. Are you aware of programs that might help this woman in Indiana?
Ms. RAE: Not immediately. But she should go to our Web site at www.thejrp.org. And we'll look into it for her.
I think the key is also to understand that it's not an ultimate goal to forgive. The restorative justice process might lead a victim to that place...
Ms. RAE: ...and often does. But it's not a goal and it's not seen as a place they have to go. That's a very key point, because not all victims will ever get there. We find - we find in the work we do around the country that victims tell us that forgiveness is for them and that often there's just so much healing.
But it's not a goal. And that's important. And let me commend too the director or producer of this new movie, "Take." I hadn't heard of it, and it sounds wonderful. So I'm very encouraged to hear that this is out there.
CONAN: Hm-hmm. Well let me ask you, Minnie Driver, people are calling in who have been victims of crimes. Obviously - I don't know if you ever have - but we have to imagine this, most of us. Most of us are not victims of terrible crimes like this.
And these experiences - when she goes into that room to finally meet this man after that awful experience, the range of emotions that flash on your face, it's just extraordinary.
Ms. DRIVER: Oh. Well, thank you very much. I've had - I had one experience in my life of being robbed, which was terrifying and is in no way comparable to this situation.
But the feeling of powerlessness I can speak to, as I think everyone has experienced that in their life. And I think anything that - any program that offers an avenue of taking back your power, even if that is through sitting in a room with somebody and looking them in the eye.
There's a line that my character has in the film where she says it's so much easier when you don't have a face. She's speaking to the perpetrator of the crime. And I really - but I think in a way that's the redemption. You get to look somebody in the eye and you say something to them and they hear you and they respond.
And I think we've really forgotten the power of apology. And it may sound like I'm incredibly naïve to someone listening who has experienced a terrible crime. But there is such power in forgiveness and compassion that I've experienced. But obviously I can't speak for people who've experienced a terrible crime.
CONAN: But nevertheless, the rage - there is rage there too.
Ms. DRIVER: Yes. Absolutely. And I think that that is incredibly important to acknowledge this. As Lisa just said, it's not - it's not going from - into an immediate place of joy and forgiveness. It's really having that as your ideal, I think, of where you want to end up.
But there are many, many layers to that. And it's a journey. And I think rage is an absolute part of that. And I would think somebody who's feeling desperate and powerless, that rage would be an absolute step up from that, would actually be - bring great relief.
Ms. RAE: Yes. And let me say too that the victims that we work with across the country and outside the country, often they are at that place of rage. And that's healthy.
And some people, I think, and even policy makers across the country say, oh, this is all touchy-feely stuff, this is soft on crime and, you know, who else wants this? This is crazy.
And you know, it's not that at all. It's about how do you get to the center of this problem and how do you bring an offender - and Minnie was just mentioning this - how do you bring an offender to the point of remorse if they never think of the effect they had on a real human being?
And that's what restorative justice does, is it starts to open the door for that.
Also I want to make a comment about in the film, the clip that you played, I believe her character was having a problem getting into the prison. And that is very, very common across this country. The correctional system doesn't want victims necessarily to come in and meet.
And we have to open those doors wide and say, well, why not? I mean we're talking about how we change offenders and how do we bring healing into the lives of both victims and offenders and communities. We have to provide those options for restorative justice.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Tim. Tim is with us from Ohio. Tim, are you there?
TIM (Caller): Yes, I am.
CONAN: Go ahead. You're on the air, please.
TIM: Yes. I - maybe I'm just missing the point here, but it seems to me that part of the problem is that one of you guys just mentioned the idea of being soft on crime. And I'm listening and I'm hearing how we need to really watch out for these offenders. We need to get them jobs.
And they're the criminals. We all have choices. I was beaten as a child. Does that give me the right to go out and beat people? I mean it seems to me that part of the problem is that we're not holding people accountable.
The sentences, you know, you get 25 years but no one ever serves 25 years. I fail to understand how getting even softer on criminals is also going to help us.
CONAN: Is this being softer on criminals, Lisa Rae?
Ms. RAE: No, it's not. It's just the opposite. This is about offender accountability. I think you just heard one of the callers talking about restitution, offenders' inability to pay.
But we're talking here about true offender accountability. The project I ran in Texas in prison - in a medium-security prison - when I went in there, most offenders don't think at all about their victim. Once they're serving time, the victim is out of the equation.
And what we're saying in this movement - restorative justice movement - is that how do you bring an offender to an understanding of what they did to another human being? And you have them take responsibility for their actions. That's what it's about.
This is far from soft. This is tough. This is tough to do. And it's talking about actually holding them accountable to the victim.
Mr. OLIVER: If I could interrupt...
CONAN: Go ahead, Charles Oliver. Yes.
Mr. OLIVER: I think that is absolutely the point. If you listen to Cheryl's story, she talked about, you know, being in the room with this individual, this offender, and he walked in the room and he sat and cried for an hour and a half.
And there's something to be said about that accountability, which is perhaps, you know, probably the most intense sort of remorse she felt in the years previously that he was actually sitting in prison.
So I think there's an emotional accountability that we're talking about here which is very difficult - or very different, rather, than the accountability you have by sitting and spending time in prison.
And I'm not saying both parts aren't important to the equation. But to just punish someone by sitting behind some bars and not having an emotional sort of, you know, restitution there and where you actually come face to face with your offender is robbing that person of part of his accountability.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Tim. We're talking with Charles Oliver, who you just heard, and Minnie Driver, the director and star, respectively, of the new movie "Take," about restorative justice. Also with us, Lisa Rae, the president of the Justice and Reconciliation Project.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's - it's interesting, Charles Oliver, you were just talking about that. The offender - as you wrote him in your movie - denies, denies, denies. And finally he has a breakthrough as well in that meeting.
Mr. OLIVER: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think what it is is that meeting together. I mean, interestingly enough I really didn't set out to write a film about restorative justice. I set out to write a film about what it would be like to have two people in the room like that in that moment, that extended surreal moment of being across the table from someone who had done such a horrible thing to you, because I think it goes beyond restorative justice.
It's sort of an emotional need, I think, that we all have at different levels in our lives. It wasn't until right after I finished the rough draft of the script actually that I even learned about restorative justice. I read an article in Reader's Digest and then later heard about a show on the Oprah - an Oprah Winfrey show where they actually showed one of these meetings.
And I was blown away. I heard some of this dialogue and it was, you know, right - dialogue right out of my script. So I think that - I think there's a need for that experience, you know, for someone to actually face their offender and have that dialogue.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Joanie. Joanie is with us from California. I hope I'm pronouncing that right.
JOANIE (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
JOANIE: I would like to say that you're talking a lot about forgiveness here. And 16 years ago I was a victim of a violent crime. And today I don't really consider myself a victim anymore. I've come to terms without forgiving. This person is in prison for 25 years without parole.
I do have bad dreams still. I worry about when he does get out of prison. At this point in my life I've actually thought about contacting him through the system. And they do let me know they moved him recently - well, a few years ago.
And so the system is good in that sense of keeping me aware of where he's at and if he will ever come up for parole.
JOANIE: But I think that in my case, I sat in a court room and watched this person not say that he was sorry and not be forgiving. And I through my own process dealt with it and have come to terms with it and understand in some ways he came from a bad life and all of that. And I understand that stuff.
But I don't think that I necessarily have to forgive him. I have kind of come to terms with it and realized that this person is very violent. And I think that you don't have to say that you're going to forgive this person for whatever reason. You can still just carry on and go on.
JOANIE: Does that make sense?
CONAN: Yeah. I think it does make some sense. But I wonder, don't you have questions about why he did it?
JOANIE: I do have questions about it. And this was like a three-hour process where I was sexually abused. I was beat up. I had a gun put to my head and repeatedly told - he told me that he was going to kill me.
The anniversary - it's April 2nd - every year I celebrate being alive. And it is harder for the people around me, my family and friends that were around at that time and still are friends are family, to deal with. I survived it. So for me it's a celebration and for them it's still sort of like, oh, hard to talk about or hard to deal with.
I don't have a problem dealing with it or talking about it because I lived through it and I'm alive to talk about it now. So I feel like this person in the courtroom could have had some time - and maybe the time that he spent in prison he's had time, but this is a very violent man. And I feel completely blessed that I wasn't killed that day. And so I think just coming to terms with it myself - I would actually at this point sit down with this person and talk to him, because I feel strong enough that I could do that, and that the demons that are in the dream, that that is the monster there. And I do realize this is a human being that did this to me. But there is still part of that psychological makeup where he is a monster. And that's maybe where I haven't come to grips with it.
CONAN: Joanie, thank you very much for the call. And we're all glad you survived it.
JOANIE: Thank you. Have a good day.
CONAN: You too.
CONAN: I'm afraid we're going to have to end it there. But thank you all. This has been most interesting. Lisa Rae is president of the Justice and Reconciliation Project, who joined us from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California. Thanks very much.
Ms. RAE: Thank you.
CONAN: And we'd like to thank also Minnie Driver and Charles Oliver, the star and the writer/director, respectively, of the new movie, "Take." And this is a song Minnie Driver sings in that. They joined us from our bureau in New York. Good luck with the film. Thanks very much.
Mr. OLIVER: Thanks so much, Neal.
Ms. DRIVER: Thanks.
CONAN: I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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