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.

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