I'm back home with my beautiful wife and children. It's been a week and a half since I returned, and I'm still jetlagged from the intensity of it all. Theodora told me that I've been on the move ever since I returned from Rwanda last year, and that I haven't taken the time to rest. There's so much to do, though......
I thank all of you who read the blog and supported me though this journey. I'll be updating every now and the, so feel free to visit.
I arrived in Kenya yesterday afternoon. My presentation at Aga Khan University is in a couple of days, and with the help of my technological genius of a brother, Duncan, I should have an engaging power-point by then.
I am tired, but SO VERY MUCH IN AWE of what has transpired these past 7 weeks of my sourjourn in Rwanda. I have been amazed, aghast, welcomed, regarded with suspicion, humbled, honored, rejected and embraced, sometimes in the span of an interview, if granted. Jacques, Melody and I accomplished what I believe would take a crew two times our size thrice as long. I have discovered that documentaries are about relationships, and that what a person desires most is a sympathetic ear that respects where they are by trying to understand where they've been. I have cultivated friendships that cannot, will not, end with the final edit; dignfied men and women whose prayers and well-wishes availeth much. I have been changed in ways I shall continue to discover as long as I live, and I have so many of you to thank for that.
I am fatigued, nursing a cold, and very much in need of rest, whose importance has been overrated until now. The human body is the most exacting of loan sharks.
After much back and forth betwixt my crew and the local administration in Gisenyi, we managed to get a laptop and projector to show ICYIZERE at the local prison. We had to go to town to get an amplifier and speaker, but that was the least of our worries.
We arrived at the prison at 5:30 pm, set up our equipment by 6, tested the DVD player, and by 6:15 the prisoners, some dressed in pink and others in orange, began to file out. Jacques informed me that the ones in orange had already had their sentences passed, while the ones in pink were awaiting theirs. By the time all of the prisoners were seated in the prison yard, there was little space to move around. I did not know that there were so many prisoners. There were four categories: Juveniles (boys and girls) and adult (man and women). They were seated in different sections, but with the limited space the sections were not clearly defined.
I introduced myself, explained a little about the film, and just as we were about to start rolling........
power went out.
Yes, in a prison of 2,500 crammed shoulder to shoulder, and guards (albeit armed) I could count with the fingers on my left hand, everything went dark.
Immediately the prison director came to me and told me that since there was no guarantee that power would return soon, they were going to send everyone back inside, and we could return another day to share the film. Inspired by the fact that my days in Rwanda were limited, and that we went through a lot to get permission from the Minister for Security (not to mention spending half the day at the local administration), I asked him to give us five minutes to see if power would return. five and no more.
After 4.5 minutes, Jacques and Melody began disconnecting the equipment. "What are you doing?" I asked. "We need to put everything away, power's not coming back," came Melody's unmelodious answer. "My God is a God of last minute," said I. Of first and in between also.
I had barely finished my retort when power surged back to life and everyone in the prison yard applauded and cheered. Myself included.
The screening went very well. Everyone paid rapt attention, and bore patiently with us the two times the amplifier resisted amplifying and the speaker went mute. Other than that, it was what I hoped it would be and more. After the screening, there were requests if "INGINE (More)" from the crowd, and those that came to thank me for showing the film told me in Swahili and sometimes broken English that the film was very helpful and taught them a lot. I was told later by the director of the prison that around 50 inmates were severely traumatized.
Unfortunately, the permission letter that came from the Minister for Security mentioned in bold italics that I was not allowed to take any pictures or video inside the prison. I was welcomed back when the final version of the film was completed, a welcome that I hope to accept. I believe the fact that a former prisoner is included in the film made it even more appealing to the viewers in the Gereza (prison). I have since thought about having a prison tour, using the film to educate about trauma, and to introduce prisoners to the very very important work that the HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Community) workshops are doing in the region. We'll see.
As I write, I am preparing to take a bus back to Gisenyi for a day and a half. John, a young survivor that I am privileged to know, begins school tomorrow, and I would like to get some footage of him and his fellow students. Tomorrow evening we will head back to Kigali, then I leave for the land of my birth, Kenya, at 9 the following morning. In Kenya I will present ICYIZERE at Aga Khan Medical University, at the Kenya Film Commission, and possibly at a local TV station. Possibly. I will also be gathering footage for a soccer ministry, Vapor Sports, over 2 days. All of this in addition to visiting my grandmothers (a must), old high school buddies (desirable), and relatives who haven't seen me since I was "this tall" and sported a hi-top fade (negotiable). I look forward to rest, which probably won't happen until I am in the arms of my woman. For now, I scurry to the Virunga Bus Sation for a window seat.
We've been back and forth between Kigali and Gisenyi. Currently we are gathering the last interviews from Mama Aline and Jean-Baptiste. I am very glad to have Melody on board, because his English is almost as good as his Kinyarwanda, and he has been able to fully understand and achieve what I am looking for in an interview. Jacques in like the mayor of Rwanda. Everywhere we go, he knows people in government, all of whom he seems to have gone to school with. We are trying to get a projector to use in the prison to show ICYIZERE tomorrow, and the answer is a phone-call-that-never-gets-answered away. Good thing is that when it does get answered, it will be by a good friend of the guy. Here's to hoping.
I had made the resolution to update this blog at least every other day, but at the end of most days we can barely crawl into bed, much less walk to the Rubavu Digital Centre to upload and download and bite our nails hoping it passes through. Too much has happened to compress into a few paragraphs, so I'll update as time permits.
Because there was too much material to cover in too little time,I extended my stay in Rwanda by 10 days. This has helped quite a bit footage-wise, but has also added to my separation anxiety. Theodora tells me that my girls still cry for me, and for all you poppas out there you know how hard it is. We have worked out a plan, however, where I text message her, and she calls me using a $5 calling card from Latino Market that allows us to talk for 45 minutes. That way we can catch up on everything, and I can hear the voices of my clan. Yay.
I'm off to Mam Aline's for an interview, and maybe lunch. there is a dish calles "Sombe," whiach is cassava leaves, and is tastier than it sounds. Farewell for now, and bon appetit.
I have been in Gisenyi for the past week, and we have been waking up at sunrise (or before) and working until late at night. I am with Melody, a bright young man with a passion for film who worked as a receptionist at the Impala Hotel; and Jacques, the intrepid sound man I worked with last year. Melody woke up with a stomach ache this morning, and Jacques with a sore throat. That and my congestion of the last few days was a sign that we needed to take a break before we crashed physically and mentally. We have been trying to compress 2 months of filming into 2 weeks, and while our spirits have been willing, our bodies have been weakened.
The rest has done us some good. Melody is feeling much better, as is Jacques. I took a nap this afternoon, and awoke a new man. Tomorrow has us visiting Jean-Baptiste, and in the afternoon we will be with John, the young man in the film. John was 4 at the time of the genocide, and has gone through a lot in his 18 years on this earth. Despite his loss, he is still a typical teenager with posters on his wall and Chris Brown in his radio.
I spoke to Kije MUGISHA of TV Rwanda yesterday, and she informed me that they would be airing ICYIZERE at 3 pm. I have also been booked for an on-air news interview this Friday at 9 pm, after which they will again air the film. I am so grateful for the doors that have been opening. The local prison is interested in showing the film to the prisoners, many of whom have been traumatized. On Friday we will leave for Kigali to meet with the minister for security to get permission to show the film at the prison. We will also film the Icyunamo (remembrance/mourning) in Kicukiro, and go to the TV station in the evening. After that we will catch a few hours of sleep, travel back to the Icyunamo before the sun rises, film the rest of the event, and then catch a bus to Gisenyi to film the Icyunamo in neighboring Kanzenze. Werner Herzog had it right when he said that film-making is athletic, not aesthetic.
The mood during this week of mourning has been heavy, and we have all been affected. We had just interviewed John a couple of nights ago when Theodora called the following morning. Speaking to my 5 year old daughter Wambui brought John's childhood reality closer. I am the funniest, strongest man to my children, as John's dad must have been to him. I cannot imagine them suffering like he did, and feel for him and the countless others in his situation.
I will try to update my blog as often as I can. Most of the time the server is down, and I don't have the time or the patience to wait an hour for a connection. I am well, and very very grateful for the people that made it possible for me to be here. The mountains of Rwanda, like the Ozark hills, have been carved into my soul.
March 19th found me in Gisenyi. After going to bed at 3 am,I awoke at 5:30 am, packed, and met Thierry at the Kigali Express bus station at 6:30. Thierry had agreed to travel with me, ahead of the HillyWood crew, to Gisenyi to film the reunion with Mama Aline, Jean-Baptiste, and all the subjects of ICYIZERE. Francois and Jean-Pierre, facilitators for HROC that were in the film, arranged for a private room at the Dianne Fossey Lodge with a TV and DVD player. Lunch was to follow.
We were in Gisenyi by 10:30 am, and were met by a grinning Francois. The reunion at the hotel was ecstatic, faces contorted in smiles as we caught up with each other in our broken English, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda. Evereyone wanted to know about Theodora and the children first and foremost, and were happy to know that my family was well. I was happy to be back and they were happy to have me. I was a part of their family also.
Before I showed the film, I thanked them for allowing me to be at the workshop, and for the way that each of their stories changed my life and that of so many others who have watched the film. Their permission given to me was very courageous, and I wanted to honor that by representing their stories in the most faithful way I could.
As ICYIZERE began, there was a hush in the room. Mama Aline sat silently crying as she saw herself speak about her experience during the genocide. I made sure not to film the audience at the beginning of the movie, and didn't pull out my camera until they began to play "Zinaguruka(it can fly)." The tension melted into laughter, and I fought back tears. The audience moved from discomfort to laughter,laughter to sorrow, sorrow to relief, and relief to contemplation in the hour that the film played. And I was fulfilled.
Afterwards, I stood in front of everyone, thanked them again for their courage, and told them that if anyone had ANY issue whatsoever about ICYIZERE being broadcast to the town of Gisenyi, ANY reason, then we would not play it. This was a sensitive subject that had the potential to do more harm than good if misunderstood, and I did not want to cause any problems for anyone.
One by one members of the audience stood up to give speeches, thanking me for showing the film, asking for a copy, and encouraging me to show the film that evening. Even their neighbors, they said, needed to see it. Their neighbors too were struggling with the same issues and the film would help them to see a way that could help. If this was the only thing I did while in Rwanda, I would have counted my experience as blessed.
As we had lunch, I sat next to John, the young man in the film that spoke about his experience as an orphan. He told me that he was four when the genocide occured, a child in a family of 10 that was the only one left alive. He was a streetchild for 3 years, until at the age of 7 his grandparents found him and took him in. he had not talked about his pain to anyone until last year. For 11 years he harbored his past, and when he finally released it, he told me that it gave him an openness that he had never experienced. This 18 year old, lover of Hip Hop and Lingala music, lived a life that was devaststing yet, as an orphan of the genocide, common. He represents a generation that youth the world over can relate to, and I asked him whether I could visit him to add his story to the film. "To talk to you would be very good for me. It will help. You are welcome anytime" was his response.
Before the film showed at the packed business center in the heart of Gisenyi, I addressed the crowd in a mix of English and my broken Kinyarwanda. I assured them that this film was not made to point the finger at anyone, nor to make anyone uncomfortable, but that i made the film to show how it is possible to learn how to understand each other. As opposed to Nyagatare, where people began to leave as soon as the film began, almost everyone stayed to watch the film. They laughed at the funny parts and were very sympathetic during the sorrowed ones. People came to me as it was showing to thank me for making the film, and I again interviewed random members of the audience to ask their opinions, which were all very encouraging.
That evening, after dinner, I spoke to Ayub, the festival coordinator who in Nyagatare had told me that the film should not be shown in HillyWood. He told me that the screening went very well, and that we should show the film in Hillywood every night from then on.
The 4th annual Rwanda Film festival began in earnest on the 16th of March, 2008, in Nyagatare, a farming community bordering Uganda in the eastern part of Rwanda. Driving in a minivan provided by the UN World Food Programme, we (Rwanda Cinema staff Olivier, Romeo, 75 year old Ramadhan, Esai, Christian, Kenya Film Commision vice president Nyatichi Sitati and myself) travelled over the flattest terrain in Rwanda as Olivier, editor for RCC and "Minister of Finance" for the festival, explained that Nyagatare was the first town that the Rwanda Patriotic Army, led by now president Paul Kagame, invaded at the beginning of the genocide.
We reserved rooms at the Blue Sky hotel, had a rather filling lunch, and at 4 pm found our way to the grounds where MTN, one of the festival's sponsors, had already set up a mobile stage on which a very animated and charismatic young lady had the steadily growing audience lauging. By 6 pm, the sun had set and the crowd was enormous. We began by showing "Better Out Than In," an RCC production about a released prisoner that chose to stay in jail. Next came "Consequences," a film about domestic abuse. The crowd watched with rapt attention, relating to the stories about fellow Rwandans and their varied realities captured on film.
Ayub, the director of the Festival, and I had spoken about introducing ICYIZERE before it screened, but due to techical difficulties with the PA system, we went ahead and showed it when the time came. I walked into the midst of the crowd, searching for impressions. It was hushed, save for intermittent clicks of sympathy. Soon after, I walked past a group of young men laughing nervously, and as I trod deeper into the crowd I noticed that one by one, people were beginning to leave.
All in all, I suspect around 200 people, mostly men, left as the movie played. Those that stayed
were quiet as they observed what must have been a radical process to them portayed on the 20 foot screen in the rolling hills of Eastern Rwanda. I stood next to a man who spoke a little swahili, and asked him in my broken vernacular what he thought of the film. "Hii filim iko mzuri sana. Inatuonyesha vile tunaweza kuishi pamoja."
"This film is very good, as it shows us how we can live together." After the film was over, I spoke to random people with the help of Christian, and all in all their opinions were the same.
As we had dinner at the hotel, Ayub sat next to me and very diplomatically explained to me that the film was one that he felt shouldn't be shown in Hillywood. Reason being that if someone in the audience was to have a breakdown, the festival was not prepared to deal with it at all. We would have to wait until the film could be shown in Kigali on the 28th of March.
Needless to say, I was deflated.
The next morning I spoke to Eric Kabera, director of Rwanda Cinema Center and chairman of the of the festival. he explained that he had previously been faced with situations where people collapsed while viewing "100 days," a movie that he produced about the genocide. ICYIZERE was a film in which people revisited their trauma, and to have reactions in a crowd of thousands would be disastrous.
While I spent the last 7 months editing the film on a more than full time basis, working with Rwandans and Burundians to make sure that it was sensitive to the Rwandan culture, I could understand the point made. During the filming of ICYIZERE, the participants were in a safe environment with skilled facilitators that knew how to handle the incredible challenges. I had hoped that the audience of Hillywood would empathize with the sorrow, yet also find comfort in the counsel, and hope in the resolution.
I said as much to Eric. After a while we decided that we would show the film in Gisenyi, Kibuye and the university town on Butare. There would have to be a detailed yet concise introduction to the film, with the condition that if it didn't go well in Gisenyi, we would pull it out of Hillywood altogether.
I have arranged to meet with the participants of the workshop on the morning of the 16th for a private screening. Later in the evening we shall present the film to the town of Gisenyi, and I will get an opportunity to address the audience with Mama Aline and Jean Baptiste. I pray that it is received well, and that viewers ar all screenings are inspired to attend HROC workshops.
In Kigali, I will present ICYIZERE on Friday the 28th, at 7 pm. The 2nd week of the festival is chock-full of amazing films from all corners of this sphere we call home. There are filmmakers from Germany, the UK, the US and Canada attending, and films from America, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Rwanda, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo Uganda will be showing. This will be a great opportunity to connect with creators of amazing, important work, and I am giddy with anticipation.
Tonight is the opening night reception of the festival. It begins at 9, at a restaurant across the street from the Milles Collines (I forget the name). I thank God for the opportunity to be here, in this beautiful, mountainous country of sorrowed past and hopeful future.
Woke up this morning feeling refreshed. It has been my first full night of sleep in a long time, and I felt ready for the world. I believe it has something to do with all that walking I've been doing. Jane Terry, you'd be so proud................ After a 45 minute stroll, I went to the Friends Peace House to meet up with Solange and Theoneste, Healing and Rebuilding Our Commmunities (HROC) facilitator and national coordinator respectively. We watched ICYIZERE, and their response was joyous. We are planning on a private screening for the participants in the documentary on the afternoon of the 19th. In the evening of the same day, the documentary will be shown to the entire town of Gisenyi.
This all seems a tad bit surreal, considering that a year ago I had no idea how I was going to get the money to film the documentary. I only knew that this was a story that needed to be told, and the good people from the city of Springfield helped to make it happen. It had not always been easy. As a matter of fact it has been downright difficult at times, but what has not left me is the conviction that this is what I am supposed to do. I am so grateful for all of the people that urged and prayed me through, beginning with my homegrown cheerleading section.
I took a "Moto (motorcycle taxi)" to the Rwanda Cinema Centre later in the day, and met with Jacques (my soundman during production of ICYIZERE) and Pierre, coordinator of the Rwanda Film Festival. I was greeted with open arms and a plate of rice, stewed plantains and beef. Jacques mentioned that they were looking into a radio interview to promote showings of the film, and that they also were planning on having an extra screening at the National University in Butare.
Did I mention surreal?
The rest of the day had me walking the city streets in search of a "Safaricom" calling card, which is difficult to find in the land of MTN cell phone network. I shall continue tomorrow. The festival begins in 2 days and I am, as they say, stoked. And tired. Lala salama.
After leaving Springfield, MO in a plane that was so small I could have shoplifted it out of the airport; arriving at an airport so large it looked like a supermall with planes in the parking lot; flying overnight while trying to sleep in a seat that could only tilt 100 degrees and embracing my mom, dad, brothers, sister-in-law-to-be and brand new niece (cute!!) for a day in Kenya, I have arrived in the Land of a Thousand Hills.
And hilly it is. I write as I recuperate from a 4 block walk from the Imapla Hotel to the internet cafe in the heart of the city center. 4 blocks, yes. Half uphill and half downhill. The land of a thousand hills is also the land of a thousand heartbeats per minute. I am so very happy to be here. It feels as though I am home. I was met at the airport by Jacques, the intrepid sound man during the filming of the documentary, and Jimmy and Steve, official drivers for the Rwanda Film Festival.They promptly took me to the hotel, we exchanged numbers, and they told me to contact them if I needed anything. I spent the rest of the day reading and walking around downtown Rwanda. Although I was sleepy, I knew that if I slept during the day my body wouldn't adjust to the time change. Which it didn't. I took a ''nap" at 6 pm, awoke at 12:30 am (5:30 pm Missouri time) and didn't go back to sleep until 4 or 5 am. As I write, I am a tad fatigued, but with so much reacquainting with Kigali to do, that will have to wait. The film Festival starts on the 16th, and I plan on being completely in tune with night and day by then.
Thats it for now. I can't send pics as of yet because of the slow connection speed here, but one of these days I will spend as long as I need to to give you a glimpse of this beautiful place. I will also make a slide presentation for the good folks in Springfield.
I write this blog as I'm preparing for my presentation at the Clara Thompson Hall on the Drury Campus. I'm a little nervous, which I suppose is a good thing, if I can channel my butterflies into an engaging presentation.
I am so excited about returning to Rwanda, yet the thought of leaving my family makes my heart heavy. Thank God for my beautiful supportive wife who not only supported my travelling, but insisted upon it. She's my "Hard Headed woman, who makes me do my best."