PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: (L–R) Jaime Ray Newman, André Holland, Andra Day, Titus Kaphar, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor and John Earl Jelks attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Exhibiting Forgiveness” premiere. (Photo by Marc Sagliocco/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Patty Consolazio
“I could not point to any need in childhood as strong as that for a father’s protection.” — Sigmund Freud
We are indelibly shaped by our parents and caregivers — how many times have you heard someone (maybe even yourself) say, “I’ve become my mother (or father)”? In the best of childhoods, parents still make mistakes as they form our views of life and self; views that may or may not serve us and our offspring. Under less favorable conditions, we are left with mental and physical scars. The question is: What effect will these scars have on our life — and our next generation?
An emotionally charged look at the effects of intergenerational trauma, Exhibiting Forgiveness premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on January 20. The film is part of Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Successful artist and family man Tarell (André Holland) lives a comfortable life with his musician wife, Aisha (played by singer songwriter Andra Day), and son, Tre. When his ailing mother seeks to reconcile him with his estranged recovering-addict father, he resists, then challenges his father to make amends for past actions. In addition to frightening his family, Tarell’s recurring violent nightmares cement his anger and unwillingness to forgive. Ian Foreman gives a heart-wrenching performance as young Tarell in flashbacks to childhood memories.
A post-premiere Q&A with director Titus Kaphar and the cast revealed that the expression of such powerful subject matter made self-reflection unavoidable.
“We were in a scene that was dealing with grief, and several of us who were a part of that scene needed to take a moment and step away, and I think that was because that grief; that feeling that the characters are trying to metabolize was really very much on the surface for all of us,” reflects Holland. “And so I think that the movie, in addition to being, I think, a beautiful film, is also like an invitation and a gift, I think to us, to help us process some of the things we’ve been going through.”
Day agrees with his assessment that this film provided opportunities for growth, and she chose to lean into it. “Most of us probably have some form of brokenness or dysfunction in our families… I think for me approaching this film, Titus is a very emotional person and he’s a driven person, and I think he allowed a lot of space for us to express ourselves. And I think for me I looked at it as a cathartic and a therapeutic experience. I was able to, you know, just get on set and work out my own family issues. Particularly the idea of wanting to create a life that you’ve not necessarily experienced or you’ve not necessarily seen.”
Nearly everyone on stage took the chance to thank Kaphar and acknowledge his leadership and the creative license he fostered among the cast and crew. As the clock ran down for questions, somebody asked about Kaphar’s personal relationship to his film.
“First and foremost, this is not a documentary. Let’s be clear,” stated Kaphar. “So I actually started this project by doing a documentary and realized I did not want to tell the story this way. It was actually a little too much for me. So there was a way in which I was mining my memories but covering them in fiction so it felt safe to tell the truth.”
In that way, he made the story about anyone who wants to grow from it.
To see more of the magic of the 2024 Festival, click here.