Facing Fear
Credit: Facing Fear (2014)

Come Oscar season, all cinephiles are ready to campaign for their favorite film. Are you Team Gravity or Team 12 Years a Slave? Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o? While movie fans have likely seen all the big nominees by this point, there are smaller categories where even some film enthusiasts may not be as well-versed. Leading up to the Oscars, EW will tell you all about one often-overlooked category: Best Documentary Short. Come back each day this week for a look at one of the nominees, and impress your Oscar party with your knowledge when the category appears on Sunday’s broadcast.

Today: Facing Fear, by Jason Cohen

Most people think it’s a pretty big deal to forgive a friend for a dumb joke, or to forgive a high school mean girl years later. Forgiveness may get a lot of play in our culture, but the actual forgiving part can take some serious work — and there are some things that nearly anyone wouldn’t be able to forgive.

Enter Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal. One was a struggling gay teen. One was a Nazi skinhead. 34 years ago, Zaal and a group of his friends beat up Boger and left him for dead in a Los Angeles alley. It was shocking that Boger miraculously survived, but even more shocking is what happened 28 years later when the two’s paths crossed again.

How did you originally hear about these men?

I was doing a bigger project for a non-profit that promotes love and forgiveness around the world. The [group] was doing some outreach with Matthew and Tim’s presentation at the [Museum of Tolerance] and they sort of introduced me to them. When I read their story I was instantly drawn to it, and thought it would make a great film.


Well the actual story itself is so extraordinary to think how these two men intersected in each other’s lives and then how they came back into each other’s lives. But I also really thought we could explore the process of forgiveness that they had been going through at that point for six years. And really dig deeper into what they were going through and the struggle involved with that.

What do you hope people take away from seeing this film?

We’re hoping that people watch the film and figure out how it relates to them in their own lives. We obviously hope people haven’t gone through as dramatic a situation as Matthew and Tim but we do feel there are themes in this film that anyone could take away and apply on a smaller scale. Of course, there are also themes about bullying, hate, and homophobia, which we wanted to get out to the forefront as well.

What surprised you most about your initial conversations with Matthew and Tim?

For me, and through the course of making this film, for me these guys are heroic. That they are able to take this awful event and turn it around into something so positive, I don’t know if I could do the same. They have really bared their souls for other people to benefit from their stories. And fortunately for us, they did so even more in the film so that many more people will be impacted by it.

Have Matthew and Tim seen the film?

Oh yeah. We go out and do Q&As since we first premiered the film back in July. They’ve been out and about with the film. They’re really happy with it. It’s been something for them, they’d been out doing presentations for a few years at schools and jails, but I think with the film they were able to open up a little bit further and talk about things maybe they hadn’t been comfortable talking about before. And I think it’s been cleansing for them. They do a monthly presentations [at the Museum of Tolerance] and then still go out at jails and schools. Matthew is the manager of the museum, so he still works there. And Tim volunteers.

Tell me about the reactions you’ve received from people watching the screenings.

People are touched in different ways. When you get passed the ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this actually happened’ part of the story, then I think people really are looking at this process of forgiveness that they both struggled through. I think people are looking at it as sort of examining human nature, as a result, people are able to look at their own lives. Maybe they don’t have these exact circumstances but just in general, human nature and compassion and a way of getting along in general, I think people are taking that away from it. Obviously, some people are connecting to some of the storylines about hate and homophobia and bullying because unfortunately it is something that still does happen today, even though this story took place 34 years ago.

The Oscar stuff is certainly exciting.

Yeah. For us it’s very exciting. It’s not something we ever thought about when we were making the film but we were certainly honored and pleased with everything. For us, this is a pretty small documentary, it’s short, we don’t normally get a huge platform to put it out there. The exposure and attention is amazing to us because we’re going to be able to take it out to a much wider audience then we ever, ever would have thought.

What’s next for you?

I mentioned briefly, this film was part of a much bigger project. We have a feature-length documentary [coming next.] That we shot around the world that has four other stories in it. This [Facing Fear] didn’t fit with those. So those [other stories] are a completely separate film and it’s done and we’re going to start pushing that out when we get through all this excitement and Oscar stuff. That one is called Four Women, One World. It’s a large process about love and forgiveness around the world. Theirs is one of five that we shot, and the other four are in a feature film.

Facing Fear is now in theaters along with all the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Distribution for VOD/DVD is in the works.