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.
I slept well in Gisenyi.