Director’s Comments

The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, 1996
The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, 1996

Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle is a project that has been percolating for years. It started taking shape in August 1999 during a private audience with the Dalai Lama when I presented him with a copy of my documentary In Search of Kundun, which includes an in-depth interview with him. He asked what my next project would be. I mentioned that I wanted to focus on the spirit of reconciliation, a theme that concerned the survival of mankind. His immediate response was a question: “Have you met Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu? You have to go and talk to them. Remember that it all started there in South Africa, with Gandhi.”

It took ten years for the project to come together. Even though our financing fell through a few weeks before the shoot, my wife/producer and I were committed to see it through, no matter what. By then, I knew that the South African story of reconciliation touched people in every sphere of life, from the townships to the halls of power — that it challenged the victims of apartheid as much as the perpetrators of violence. The story had to be woven as a tapestry, incorporating insights and experiences from a wide palette of witnesses.


I realized as I was filming them that their emotions were so powerful, so eloquent, that there was no need for a narrator. Let them tell the story, however complex and painful, in their own words. I did include one outsider in the choir: Clint Eastwood, who happened at the time to be filming Invictus, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup — an event that allowed Mandela to bring together the black and white communities in a stunning moment of national fusion. Eastwood, who has been a friend and colleague for many years, encouraged me to expand my canvas in order to capture the diverse faces and voices of South Africa’s liberation, from the dark days of apartheid to the new era of black majority. He shared my conviction that today’s world needs leaders like Mandela if we want to escape the deadly logic of “an eye for an eye.” My hope is that this film allows the viewer to experience very concretely the many facets of Mandela’s “miracle.”