Rwandan cinema (dubbed Hillywood – because Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills) is at the center of an upcoming new feature documentary from directors Leah Warshawski and Chris Towey, titled Finding Hillywood.
We’re probably all used to seeing the country via limited lenses, and rarely, if ever, get to know the land and its people from the people themselves.
That there’s a film festival in Rwanda that’s now in its 8th year, is likely news to many outside of the country.
Nollywood stories seem to dominate African cinema news, and with good reasons of course. It’s one of the top 3 largest film-producing industries in the world, in terms of output, behind Hollywood and Bollywood.
But rarely do we hear of cinema from Rwanda – specifically BY Rwandans, as a movement (years in the making) to build a local film industry there moves full speed ahead, giving the people the opportunity to tell their own stories, to fill in the holes left by existing films about Rwanda that are often not made by Rwandans.
Eric Kabera, founder and chairperson of the Rwanda Film Festival, the country’s first film school, and a filmmaker in his own right, previously worked for the BBC, covering the atrocities of the mid-1990s. Unhappy with the kind of coverage the country was getting, he was inspired to tell Rwanda’s story from a Rwandan POV, establishing the Rwanda Cinema Centre in 2002 – a place for aspiring filmmakers to learn and share. That first strike eventually gave birth to the Rwanda Film Festival – now called simply Hillywood.
Although Kabera does acknowledge that they still have a long way to go.
However, the international film community is certainly taking notice, with profiles like those we previously shared, from CNN and others, but also in the form of film financing, coming from organizations outside the country, and the continent.
Also, throw in partnerships with film organizations in the US (Tribeca Institute) and Sweden (Swedish Institute), who provide equipment as well as exchange programs for aspiring Rwandan filmmakers.
Showing Rwanda from a Rwandan perspective is obviously the goal for Kabera and the above initiatives; what’s uncertain is how foreign audiences will receive these films.
The feature documentary from Warshawski and Towey will world premiere at SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival) via its new African Pictures program.
Here’s how SIFF describes it:
Hillywood, the Rwandan Film Industry, is given the spotlight in this affectionate portrait featuring the filmmaking community, the blossoming film festival culture, and the joy of the people as they experience Rwandan cinema on the big screen.
SIFF runs from May 16 – June 09, 2013.
Watch the trailer below: