Wednesday, April 30, 2008


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.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gisenyi Prison viewing

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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Separation Anxiety

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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I apologize for my silence.

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.