Rwandan director Kivu Ruhorahoza’s latest film, Things of the Aimless Wanderer,
premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the New Frontiers category, which
is dedicated to films that explore non-traditional storytelling. Shot over 18 days in
Rwanda, the film offers perspectives on the relationship between Westerners and
locals in post-colonial Africa.
SCREEN AFRICA: Stylistically, where did you draw inspiration for this film?
Kivu Ruhorahoza: Before I started shooting, I decided that the film would look
gritty, organic, lush and at times dreamy. It was a conscious choice to avoid a
glossy, silky, clean HD type of look. The final look for the forest scenes was
supposed to be as close to Warwitch by Kim Nguyen as possible. I wanted rich
hallucinogenic colours, the rays of the light to penetrate the thick branches and give
a spiritual feel to the scenes in the forest. For the savannah scenes, I re-watched
Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout – I wanted to avoid that wildlife and nature documentary
look. And for all the night scenes, knowing that I didn’t have proper lighting
equipment, I decided to go with natural lights, low lit and dark.
SCREEN AFRICA: What drew you towards the idea of Western influence in Africa?
Kivu Ruhorahoza: We live in a world largely designed by the West. The cultural
triumph of the West is overwhelming. The Chinese and Indians are impressive with
the figures about their GDP and stuff but we will never want to dress like them, talk
like them… The validation we want is from the West. Our paranoia is directed at the
West because we feel so dispossessed and we don’t even know how to articulate
our discomfort. The figure of the foreign news correspondent is particularly disliked
around African capitals because he had the monopoly of opinion on us for a really
long time. Only now is that monopoly of opinion being threatened and questioned in
the comments section of news articles and Twitter. I’m fascinated by the broken
communication between those two and I thought it would make a good idea for a
SCREEN AFRICA: The film features some long uninterrupted takes, a technique
reminiscent of Tarkovsky or Tarr. What was your thought process behind this?
Kivu Ruhorahoza: I like scrutinising faces, fingers, necks, chests… Or an entire body
in a given space. And the stories I’m interested in right now wouldn’t work with fast
cuts. Another reason is, for me to have several cuts from various angles, I would
need to shoot in a normal environment which I’ve never done. I work with ridiculous
budgets – if I can even call them budgets. Many times, I just can’t afford to shoot
three takes so I’d rather focus on one take that delivers what I’m trying to say as
SCREEN AFRICA: What was the motivation behind the use of music and
Kivu Ruhorahoza: The film is about three points of view that are radically different
and I thought it would be interesting to create specific soundscapes for each
character and their point of view or their emotional space. At the beginning, for the
scenes in the forest, there is a sense of marvel, the conflict has not been
established yet and there are just sounds of nature that are slightly manipulated.
Then the black guy’s part is all horns and heightened nature sounds that are
revealing of his state of mind. The white guy’s part is classical piano which,
combined with his visuals and his romanticised view of the young woman, made
sense to me, and finally the moody, unsettling electronic tracks for the
misunderstood young woman who is battling her own demons.
SCREEN AFRICA: The film presents the theme of perceptions and reactions to
Westerners in Africa. There is also a theme of the objectification of women. Is there
any correlation between these two ideas?
Kivu Ruhorahoza: The woman in the film is the object of lust, surveillance,
fascination and violence. The two males in the story feel like they can save her, in
their own ways. The foreign news correspondent wants to save her from her
reactionary males. In his opinion, she is the typical, mysterious “African princess’
that these men can’t appreciate the right way. The local man, who maybe feels
side-lined and increasingly irrelevant, wants to save her from the immoral
influences, the Western ways of the foreign correspondent, the Things of the
Aimless Wanderer… Patriarchy. Both consider her as a weak, decorative little thing
that can only be there to validate who they want to be. It’s terribly sad to see men
stripping naked women in the streets of Nairobi pretending that they are not
dressed the African way. Or men justifying rape because they were provoked by
under-dressed women. It’s just so ironic knowing our traditional costumes 30, 40,
50 years ago. I’m not idealistic about male-female relationship in the times of my
grandparents but something went terribly wrong in these times of women being
SCREEN AFRICA: How was the film funded?
Kivu Ruhorahoza: I funded all the production phase myself. I actually bought a
camera and all accessories to use for production because there are no rental houses
in Kigali. Then my producing partner, Antonio Rui Ribeiro covered post-production.
The whole point was to make a film without applying for any grants. It is a
particular film, hard to sell on paper and applying for the traditional grants would
have meant we’d spend a good three years in development.