The Rwanda-US co-production Kinyarwanda enjoyed a month long run in several US states from November until the end of December last year.
The film’s theatrical release was facilitated by AFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement) and follows the film’s successful streak of international awards. At the Sundance 2011 festival it won the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.
Based on a story by Rwandan Ishmael Ntihabose, the film takes viewers back to the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kinyarwanda is based on true accounts from survivors who took refuge at the Grand Mosque of Kigali and the Imams who opened their doors to give refuge to the Tutsis, as well as the Hutus who refused to participate in the killing.
It is written and directed by Alrick Brown, produced by Darren Dean, Tommy Oliver and Brown, with Ishmael Ntihabose the executive producer.
Lead roles in the film are played by Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman and Cleophas Kabasiita.
“Interwoven in the story are six different tales that together form one grand narrative, providing the most complex and real depiction yet presented of life and human resilience during the genocide,’ says Oliver.
He states that while many previous films focused on the politics and death during the genocide, Kinyarwanda is a movie about life, faith, forgiveness and reconciliation.
“We use the genocide as a backdrop and a context to tell our character’s very personal stories,’ states Oliver. “As one Rwandan said: “Even during the genocide life still went on.’
Oliver’s hope is that audiences will come to know Rwandans as ordinary people, individuals, lovers, friends and not merely heroes, villains, victims or perpetrators.
He likens the film’s educational and entertaining elements in its storytelling structure to films like Pulp Fiction and Crash.
The production team worked with as many Rwandans in front of and behind the camera as possible. Most of the Rwandan crew on the film, who had worked on previous films as assistants to assistants, headed up their own departments on this film.
In front of the camera, Rwandan actors from previous films are accompanied by a cast of mostly first time actors.
“Many of the nuances of our story also came from our Rwandan cast and crew members. These stories were so bizarre, intense, beautiful, touching, inspiring and painful that I had to write about them. I immediately knew what was going into the script,’ says Oliver.
Some of the challenges included shooting during grasshopper mating season, rain and with about 1 000 extras. There was limited equipment and a 16-day shooting schedule.
Oliver notes that the hardest part was the emotional impact the scenes had on all of the cast and crew. He stresses that Kinyarwanda emphasises people. “While other films have showed violence, corpses and death, my film emphasises life. In it, the genocide is a tragic backdrop for very familiar human experiences.’
By Martin Chemhere
Screen Africa Magazine – February 2012