For a decade, Rwanda was best known in cinematic terms through foreign
fictions – from Nick Hughes’ 100 Days (USA, 2001) to Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda
(USA, 2011) – set in the country and based on its tragic 1994 genocide.
Actor Mazimpaka Jonis Kennedy played in many of these international features.
According to him: “It was very good to have these productions coming out:
American, British, French… Most of the locals who worked with these
productions turned out to be the filmmakers you now see around. But these
productions came out as “genocide tellers’ for the international screens. People
knew Rwanda because of genocide. Now, for us, we should tell the story
In February 2014, Rwanda launched the Thousand Hills Academy Award, an
initiative designed to recognise the best of Rwanda’s Film Industry. Joel Karekezi
received the award for his first feature Imbabazi: Forgiveness, which recounts
the story of two friends torn apart by the hate speech that the Hutus used
against the Tutsis in the time leading up to the genocide.
Karekezi is one of a group of up and coming Rwandan filmmakers. He studied
cinema online through a Canadian school website, then participated in an East
African organisation’s workshop, the Maisha Film Lab. After the Berlinale Talent
Campus 2010, Karekezi received a grant from South Africa’s DurbanFilmMart
2012 and was selected at the Cannes Film Festival’s Pavilion Les Cinemas du
Monde 2013 for his next project, The Mercy of the Jungle, for which he is still
searching for funding.
“After the genocide, Rwandan cinema was really born again,’ says Karekezi.
Young filmmakers have ambition, they direct many shorts… They’re ready to
work hard to make good movies, even if funds are lacking. I’m full of hope for
the future of Rwandan cinema because directors are now telling stories from a
Kivu Ruhorahoza is one such filmmaker. Discovered in 2011 through his first
feature Grey Matter, a fantastic story in which different characters have to deal
with their painful past, he won awards at the Tribeca, Warsaw and Cordoba film
festivals. He began his career as an actor, then worked as a producer on
various documentaries before becoming the Rwanda Film Festival’s director from
2005 to 2006.
Considered the first Rwandan fiction feature filmmaker, in a country where
documentaries are more commonly produced, Ruhorahoza doesn’t want to be
trapped by history: “I don’t want my cinema to be an answer to those of others.
To feel driven by a mission is exhausting and counterproductive and a genocide
heritage is tremendous. Sometimes I think it is impossible to suggest a real film
story with a plot that does not mingle with the consequences of genocide.’
His next feature, The Man Without a Skin, is about a white man’s arrival in an
idealistic African society and will be shot this month.
Marie-Clementine Dusabejambo addresses contemporary Rwandan issues. She
shot her first short film, Lyiza in 2010, thanks to a workshop sponsored by the
Tribeca Film Institute (USA). Awarded the Bronze Tanit at the Carthage Film
Festival in Tunisia in 2012, she directed her second short film Behind The Word
This story about a teenager suffering as a result of learning difficulties and
school violence, was shot in the context of a competition, organised by the
Goethe-Institut, for films that addressed gender-based violence. It also
addresses another problem facing Rwandan society: “If you don’t know how to
speak French or English using some sophisticated accents, people laugh at you,’
Dusabejambo explains. “The violence I see is not of a physical, but rather a
mental nature. The language barrier in Rwanda is a real problem, but everyone
takes it lightly.’
With a Rwandan Cinema Centre set up in 2003, a film school (Kwetu Film
Institute), the Rwanda Film Festival (each year in July) and various production
companies, “Hillywood’ is now trying to develop its own industry by welcoming
foreign productions and promoting local filmmakers.
“There is a good dynamism,’ asserts Eric Kabera, founder and president of the
Rwanda Cinema Centre, who recently launched a professional platform,
RwandaFilm.org, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
Inflatable Film and the Business Council for Peace (Bpeace). But time will tell if
Hillywood will make it to international box offices.