Film emerges as storytelling medium

March 27, 2008

Film emerges as storytelling medium

Nicole Kalisa, right, says she wants to tell stories that transform people’s lives. She’s encouraging other Rwandan women to use film to tell their stories, too.
As a Canadian, it’s easy to think Rwanda is a backwards, scary and even dangerous place. The central African country is best known for its horrendous 1994 genocide, in which approximately 800,000 people were violently murdered.

Also, due to graphic news reports, our most common impressions of any African country are starving children, bloody wars, and the most desperate living situations.

Similarly, it’s easy for Rwandans to believe all Canadians are rich. The Westerners they see typically drive or are chauffeured in expensive Land Rovers, wear flashy jewelry and could obviously afford a plane ticket, which for many Rwandans costs an impossible amount.

But every Canadian knows not everyone here has unlimited amounts of money.

Likewise, though their country has a bloody history, the majority of Rwandans feel their country is safe, stable and a wonderful place to live and visit.

But teaching strangers what life is like on

the other side of the world, even on the other

side of their country, is tough – unless film is involved.

In a small residential neighbourhood in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, stands a modest sign that reads “Rwandan Film Festival.” The sign graces the driveway of a simple, two-storey house with a small kitchen and living room downstairs, and three rooms upstairs, each with one or two computers.

Though average in appearance, this place is the contrary. The simple urban home is a hub and catalyst for powerful personal and professional growth. This building is the Rwanda Cinema Centre (RCC).

Founded in 2002, the RCC aims to facilitate film and video production.

“The main objective is to create a filmmaking culture in Rwanda. That wasn’t existing before 1994 (the year of the genocide),” explained the centre’s operations coordinator Pierre Kayitana. “The second objective is to train young Rwandans who are taking actions to make a difference.”

The RCC strives to explore a wide range of issues in its films and raise awareness about local and global development issues. Though the movies produced are entertaining, they carry a deeper message.

The RCC runs two major ongoing projects to accomplish its objectives.

The first is the Youth by Youth film workshops, short intensive courses that teach young people the basic skills needed to create a film including scriptwriting, directing, acting, and sound production. At the end of the course, workshop participants produce any number of films.

“Most of the films are low budget but very good,” said Kayitana. “So many stories to be told, so many stories to be shown.”

He who himself is only 22, added, “These young people are the future of Rwanda.”

The centre also hosts the annual two-week long Rwanda Film Festival, nicknamed Hillywood because Rwanda is known as the country of a thousand hills.

The event takes place this year between March 16 and 30.

The local festival plays movies about Rwanda produced by the youth workshop participants as well as educational films from around the world. One week is spent showing the films in various venues in Kigali, while the other is spent travelling throughout Rwanda’s rural countryside, showing the films to villagers. Many have never seen a movie before.

The international films are meant to expose locals to what life is like elsewhere. The local films teach Rwandans about other Rwandans, with the idea that more knowledge will lessen the potential for future conflict.

People never used to leave the place they were born and so knew nothing about people in the rest of the country. That is part of what brought us to the genocide, Kayitana said.

The response to the festival been incredible with some audiences as large as 10,000, he added.

In addition to showing the Rwandan films locally, various RCC filmmakers have shown their films in other festivals in Africa, Asia and North America and have had a great reception.

“We need people to watch films for the world exposure,” Kayitana said. “Films can unite people in a world divided by borders, war and so many conflicts.”

While the number of filmmakers in Rwanda is low – likely less than a hundred – the number of women involved in the industry is even lower, almost non-existent.

“It’s not normal,” explains 23-year-old Nicole Kalisa, who has helped produce several movies, acted in one, and is now in the process of editing her first film.

Women are encouraged to stay home and take care of children, she said. But not her.

After Kalisa took one of the Rwanda Cinema Centre’s youth workshops in November 2005, she quit studying mathematics at the Kigali Institute of Technology and started working at the centre as the executive assistant to its operations coordinator, Pierre Kayitana.

“I felt I was a more creative person, more of an entrepreneur,” Kalisa said. “I want to film and direct movies. I want to tell stories that can transform people’s lives.”

So that’s what she is doing, beginning with the topic of women’s issues.

“Many times in films, we see women waiting for a man, waiting for a saviour, but it’s not like that. I’d like to tell stories that show the real impact of women in society,” she said.

Her first film addresses domestic violence. The movie is 15 minutes long and does not yet have a name.

“We see (the situation) from the perspective of a child and see the impact the abuse has on the whole family,” she said. “This is something we need to talk loudly about and look for solutions.”

But Kalisa does not want to go about it alone.

So along with her many endeavours, Kalisa is also helping organize a group of women filmmakers. She is encouraging females like her to overcome their shyness as she did and share their stories and thoughts.

Her advice – “Don’t talk too much. Just do it.”


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