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 stayedwere 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.
In 2 days, we would know.