“Facing Fear”: Documenting a Transformative Hate Crime Aftermath

Nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Documentary Short Subject category was Facing Fear, directed by Jason Cohen. At a running time of 23 minutes, it’s about the victim of a hate crime who by chance meets up with his perpetrator 25 years later. Read the tagline and you’ll know the gist of what happens: A moment of hate. A lifetime of forgiveness.

Matthew Boger at age 13 was kicked out of his home for being gay. While living on the streets of Hollywood, a group of 14 neo-Nazi skinheads savagely beat him and left him for dead. Amazingly, he survived.

Tim Zaal was an angry, violent neo-Nazi skinhead in his younger years. He once finished off a group attack on a gay kid by kicking him in the forehead with his boot.

Can you guess who that boy was?

When Boger met Zaal 25 years after the attack at The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where Zaal was scheduled to talk about his departure from the skinhead movement, they pretty quickly realized they already knew each other.

As stated on the Facing Fear film website about their process: “With their worlds turned upside down, the two embarked on a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation that challenged both to grapple with their own beliefs and fears. Neither could imagine that it would to lead to an improbable collaboration…and friendship.”

For about seven years now, Boger and Zaal have teamed up together to give their presentations to various enthralled audiences.

Watch the Facing Fear trailer below:

Emma Diab, GALO Magazine:

Their individual accounts are the core strength of the film, giving viewers the chance to experience the story of that same fateful night from both the cold floor of the parking lot as well as in the midst of a heated group of thugs. Apart from the ingenious narrative, the cinematography was a powerful ally in the retelling of this story, and especially poignant in setting the scene for Boger to recount his version of the events on location.

Forgiveness is obviously a key theme in this story. Is forgiveness necessary in such circumstances? Cohen tells Briege McGarrity, Independent Film Quarterly:

The power of forgiveness certainly jumps out although I don’t necessarily want people to take from the film that it is the only way or the right way to go. We just want people to watch this story and see how it might play out in their own lives. In addition, I think a big theme is that of transformation and how people can change and why they do. We wanted to explore how the backgrounds and events in these mens’ lives shaped how they were able to become allies after such a vicious past.

Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle:

The filmmaker intentionally gave equal weight and screen to each man’s perspective on what drove them to make peace, in Boger’s case with his assailant and in Zaal’s his reckoning with his violent past.

‘When you hear ‘forgiveness story,’ most people assume it’s about the victim forgiving the perpetrator,’ Cohen says. ‘But we were very cognizant that this story is 50-50, with two people involved. Tim had to go through a lot in terms of forgiving himself for how he had lived his life and the decisions he made. The process of forgiveness is a two-way street.’

FYI, a Young Adult novel based on their experiences was written by Davida Wills Hurwin and came out a few years ago. It’s called Freaks and Revelations.

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