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.”

Reid Sexton
March 4, 2007


ONLINE networking site MySpace is revolutionising the way Melbourne’s small charities take on their better-known rivals.

Grass-roots organisations and those without ready-made markets beyond small communities are increasingly using the site to raise their profiles and gather information on potential donors, with successful results.

MySpace allows users to create online profiles which include personal information and which can be linked and displayed on other profiles by mutual agreement.

By creating their own biographies, charities immediately gain access to an unlimited amount of potential ”friends”, a list of their interests and a forum in which the charity can be discussed and promoted by links throughout the network.

While the cost of such advertising and market research would have been too high for many charities a few years ago, the free membership offered by the site makes it ideal for those without corporate sponsorship or paid staff.

Edmund Rice Camps, which takes disadvantaged children on holiday, established a MySpace profile last year and has more than 500 friends.

Committee member Gerard Healy said the site and its electronic messaging system had changed the way the committee raised public awareness of fund-raising events.

“We can’t afford expensive direct marketing,” he said. “MySpace allows us to specifically target a market based on individuals’ interests, something that would have been impossible five years ago.

“Before our last fund-raiser, we sent unique messages to people who had linked themselves to our site emphasising aspects of the event which matched the interests on their profile. By aligning ourselves with other profiles we have seen more people expressing an interest in us which will ultimately equate to greater revenue.”

Mr Healy said it was hoped that by having the charity’s profile displayed on other profiles it would go “viral”.

“Because we are a charity people are quite happy to display us on their profile,” he said.

“The more people who display it, the more people see it and hopefully it might become viral if enough people add it to their own profile.

“It is some way off but the plan is to raise our profile to that of more-established charities through this.”

Another not-for-profit organisation using MySpace is OrphFund, which has volunteers in Melbourne and in Bristol in Britain.

The charity reported a 30 per cent jump in attendance at a recent event at a Brunswick bar to raise funds for a new orphanage in Tibet, something fund-raiser Miffy Wood attributes solely to the new community they have created online.

“While we still use group emails and SMS to advertise our events, they are quite random and faceless,” she said. “There’s no immediate interaction. You really can’t see who else is involved just from reading an email.

“But when you are sent a message on MySpace you can click on the site and check out who else is involved in that particular project. It creates more of a community. And you’re not scamming people, only (contacting) people who are interested.”

She said it was not surprising small charities were turning to MySpace: “The latest way people communicate changes all the time … if you’re not up with what’s going on then you’re not going to get your message out.”