The time has come for a movie to capture the art of being a conflict-resolver or mediator. A work that transcends the depictions of the mediation field currently found in the US mainstream media. This a raw, unfiltered look at a mediator engaged in the drama of mediation.

Directed by Michael Rymer, this film is about ten Australians from diverse backgrounds who sit down to determine the fate of a violent young man. The Film Festival Flix provides the following synopsis of this award winning independent film:

From Australia’s most acclaimed playwright, David Williamson, a moving and powerful new film about lies, betrayal, sex and bullying in the workplace. A young construction worker rams into the back of his boss’s Jaguar in a fit of anger at being sacked. Rather than fronting court, he’s given the chance to explain his actions in a community conference. This face-to-face confrontation between

the young man, his boss, his boss’s wife, coworkers, best mate and mother lifts the lid not only on his dysfunctional life but also on their workplace dirty laundry, turning all of their lives upside down.

Face To Face depicts a restorative justice or victim-offender model
of dispute resolution. John Braithwaite, author of
Restorative Justice & Responsive Regulation, offers a working definition in his book: “Restorative justice is a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.”

The reality of facing the legal justice system becomes a strong motivating factor for parties to remain engaged in the process. The mediator often times uses reality of fear and unknown consequences as an anchor when trying to break impasse and recalibrate the parties effectively. Presenting the best alternative and the worst alternative to a conflict scenario is familiar to any mediator in the field.

Braithwaite highlights the teachings of the Dalai Lama:

Learning to forgive is much more useful than merely picking up a stone and throwing it at the object of one’s anger, the more so when the provocation is extreme. For it is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and for others.

Face to Face depicts a different type of mediation. This is not a commercial mediation of a litigated case. There are no insurance adjusters, no attorneys. Some might not categorize it as a complex case because a dollar amount is not readily attached to it. Dollar signs and zeros are effectively stripped from these types of cases, but the complexities remain. If the offender doesn’t work out his problems or reconcile them in a way deemed proper by the whole, the reality of jail time is imminent. The offender, in this case, even threatens personal harm when faced with those options.

The characters in Face To Face are nuanced such that definitive roles are hard to quantify, all of them layers of the raw onion – not sautéed and approachable; more pungent, tearful, and cleansing. Skillfully and nuanced, the mediator has to peel back the layers, slowly at times, and with swift precision at others. The setting is an open space with no hallways, no caucus rooms, and no corners to hide in. Raw, true to life language is expressed, expletives and all. Jack Manning (Matthew Newton) the conflict manager in the movie, creates an environment of exposure and vulnerability for the parties, and in turn fosters true opportunities for reconciliation and growth through the process. As most conflict managers/mediators can attest, having the ability to seamlessly transition from facilitator, to evaluator, to reality

tester, both broad, narrow, and anywhere in between is a vital skill set to possess. All mediator “hats” are worn in this particular conflict scenario.

Not being afraid of emotion and allowing people to express themselves opens up the window for transformation and/or reconciliation to occur. This concept is demonstrated in the film several different times through signs of mutual respect and true apologies. The mediator states in the movie, “Sometimes you have to break up fights; sometimes you have to start them.” Having the boldness to engage all the parties and ruffle the occasional feathers proves effective in this case study. While everything looks out of control, the mediator remains the captain of the ship, guiding the parties through the high-conflict seas. The mediator remains at the helm throughout, never letting go.

Face To Face acts as a wonderful case study to be reviewed by those in the conflict management field. Lessons can be learned from observing someone in a completely open session who allows a lot of the conflict to unfold organically as opposed to a tightly controlled environment found in many caucus-only scenarios. The methodology might not be best for all conflicts, but for the restorative justice scenario it proves a valuable model.

by Christopher M. Welch
Center for Conflict Resolution

The Center for Conflict Resolution is a premier provider of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and conflict management resources, attending to the needs of the larger community. Specifically through court-annexed mediation programs, community mediation initiatives, peer mediation programs and Christian faith- based mediation. CCR provides services of the highest professional quality at the lowest possible cost to all that seek assistance in the interest of bringing peace and creating peacemakers.

Christopher M. Welch is the Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR). Chris earned a Masters in Dispute Resolution degree from Pepperdine University School of Law, Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution with an Bachelors degree in Political Science. Mediating more than 350 cases, he facilitates resolution in various types of cases primarily in the small claims and community arena.