When you survive a massacre in a foreign country and are provided with food and shelter by a crippled homeless man, but you don’t get to properly thank said man, what do you do?
You do as Sven Parnell did. Ten years later, you travel back to that country in search of the good Samaritan, and you document your journey on film. Act of Kindness charts New Zealander Sven’s search for the man he only knew as Johnson.
Before the pair’s meeting, Sven was working as a volunteer in Rwanda. Finding himself caught up in a hostage situation led by rebel soldiers, he managed to survive what turned into a deadly massacre by handing the soldiers all of the cash he had on hand. Enter Johnson, a man who had lost his wife and children in the Rwandan genocide. Johnson’s act of kindness; feeding and helping to shelter a man who was much better off than he was, evidently struck a chord with Sven. Sven soon found a way home, however, and he didn’t get to say goodbye.
Act of Kindness introduces us to a charismatic set of people. There’s something about Sven, his undeniable warmth probably, that makes you want to root for him to succeed. Facing roadblock after roadblock, Sven’s struggle and determination seems to mirror that of the Rwandan people – although it never compares to their struggles, of course. Fabrice, a young man who helps Sven track down Johnson, is equally as good-natured and likable.
While some shots are grainy and out of focus, as Sven had never shot a full-length documentary before, co-director Costa Botes works hard to piece together Sven’s footage and create a slightly more cleaned up film, shot-wise.
And while the film does feature some (extremely short) shots of the unimaginable horror Rwandan locals faced for years, this documentary works hard to celebrate the spirit, resilience, and ultimate kindness radiating through these survivors. After all, Act of Kindness isn’t really about such horrific events: it’s about the beauty that can spring up among them.
Act of Kindness is screening as part of the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, for tickets please visit the MDFF official website.