It wasn’t until we started making the film festival rounds that I ever watched documentaries. And even though I’ve seen some great ones, and was looking forward to watching this one, as the movie began, I found myself thinking of the theatrical release and wondering how many people would go see this documentary about the Charleston church shooting when it hits theaters June 17 and 19.

Documentaries have come a long way from the days of dry narration and zooming in and out of photographs. Contemporary documentaries may be factual, but they incorporate narrative film techniques. Emanuel is artistically shot and brilliantly edited. It opens with the history of Charleston and it’s nickname of “The Holy City” because of all the church steeples in the downtown.

emanuel prayer

The filmmakers compiled dozens of experts to share their stories of what happened on that fateful day and the days following. The experts include victims’ family members, local politicians, reporters, the coroner, activists, historians, and even women who witnessed the shooting. Intermixing the testimonies with news footage, the film introduces us to the local history, then walks us through the events leading up to the shooting and climaxes with the memorial service with President Obama leading the eulogy.

You’d expect a movie about a mass shooting to be solemn, and it was, at times. But the theme of the movie is forgiveness. What powerful testimonies to hear the families share about how they were feeling about the shooter and then to say what they did when they had the opportunity to speak directly to him. I can’t even explain the feeling of listening to them share how God spoke through them and then see the impact their words had on their community and on the nation as a whole.

Emanuel is a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy with a message of hope. It’s a movie that needs to be seen. It’s a movie that needs to be shared. Make plans now to see it when it comes to theaters June 17 and19.

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