Back to IndieWire

Tribeca ’10 | Deborah Scranton’s “Earth Made of Glass” Demystifies Africa

Tribeca '10 | Deborah Scranton's "Earth Made of Glass" Demystifies Africa

Rwanda’s genocide and one man’s choice at vengeance or non-violence is at the center of Deborah Scranton’s Tribeca Film Festival World Documentary Feature Competition film, “Earth Made of Glass.”

From the director of “The War Tapes” comes a powerful new film that looks at the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda from both personal and political perspectives. On August 6, 2008, against the backdrop of the world’s deadliest war in neighboring Eastern Congo, Rwandan President Paul Kagame released a report detailing the French government’s hidden role in planning the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Three months later, his closest aide, Rose Kabuye, was arrested by France on charges of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Jean Pierre Sagahutu, a genocide survivor haunted by his father’s unsolved murder, scours the Rwandan countryside on a 15-year-search for clues and ultimately finds himself confronted with his darkest desire: being face-to-face with his father’s killer. As President Kagame fights to free Rose from France and expose the truth about what really happened in Rwanda 15 years ago, Jean Pierre journeys to the scene of the crime, and the doorstep of a killer, to uncover the chilling facts behind his father’s death. As each relentlessly pursues the truth – with the fate of a family and a country hanging in the balance – they find themselves faced with a choice: enact vengeance or turn the other cheek…. Deborah Scranton crafts this dark material into an inspiring and uplifting examination of the search for truth beyond justice and the long road to redemption in Rwanda. [Synopsis provided by the Tribeca Film Festival]

“Earth Made of Glass”
World Documentary Feature Competition
Director: Deborah Scranton
Primary Cast: H.E. President Paul Kagame, Jean Pierre Sagahutu, Rose Kabuye, Serge Sagahutu, Gaspard Bavuriki
Producer: Deborah Scranton, Reid Carolin
Associate Producer: Kate Walker
Director of Photography: P.H. O’Brien
Executive Producer: Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan
Composer: Johan Soderqvist
88 min., U.S.

[Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.]

Director Deborah Scranton on her path to filmmaking, her motivation for “Glass”…

I studied Semiotics (the theory of meaning) at Brown University and also took filmmaking and photography at RISD, which was really just an extension of what I’ve always been interested in since I was five-years-old. I’ve always had a deep curiosity about other people and the situations they find themselves in, the choices they make and how those choices shape them. Being a filmmaker lets me explore these questions.

Scranton on what drove her to make “Earth Made of Glass”…

After five years of working on two films about the war in Iraq (“The War Tapes,” “Bad Voodoos War”), my mind was beset by some unanswered questions. What remains after wars end? How can anyone forgive the murderers of a loved one? How do you break the cycle of violence? Is forgiveness enough to release a country from its past? What constitutes such forgiveness?

On May 1, 2008 I found myself seated next to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame at a small dinner in his honor. As we spoke for several hours, he revealed himself to be warm, patient and determined to bring his country out from its nightmare. He told me that Rwanda is choosing a different path, between the justice of accountability and reconciliation. It brought to mind all the other areas of conflict around the world mired in endless cycles of violence and retribution without end, and my trepidation turned into resolve. Once President Kagame agreed to grant us unprecedented access and become one of the main characters of the film, there was no turning back. I had to make this film. As it turned out, I had no expectation how prescient the timing would be. My producing partner Reid Carolin and I were lucky enough to apply and receive funding support for the film from the John Templeton Foundation who fund big question research. Besides financial support, they offered boundless encouragement during what turned out to be a very arduous process.

The film employs a fly-on-the-wall cinema verite aesthetic combined with hard-hitting investigative filmmaking, which is a departure from my past work style of a virtual embed and verite hybrid. It is a visceral window into a private and emotionally charged decision about whether to enact vengeance or turn the other cheek, and a view into the course of history in the making through the eyes of a sitting Head of State rarely captured.

Scranton on some key methods she used to make the film and her challenges…

We listen, ask questions, are patient, follow the story, bear witness, have an amazing cinematographer P.H. O’Brien, and pack lots of water, protein bars and wipes.

Filming in Africa with a sitting head of state is not easy. We got to know his security team pretty well. Locating and procuring a copy of the never before published French weapons sales documents was right out of a Bourne film.

Director Deborah Scranton. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Scranton on what she wants to share with a Tribeca audience…

There is this general portrayal of Africa by the media that we have to swallow every day. Africa as this primitive place, with warring tribes that endlessly needs our help. What we found is very different from that. There is truth about what did or did not happen out there. We look forward to sharing that ground truth with Tribeca audiences.

On her inspirations and what’s coming up…

Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down,” Milcho Manchevski’s “Before the Rain” and Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s “Restrepo;” experiential, non-didactic works that refrain from telling you how to think and simply bring you into a world of otherness often very different than the one you know, and let you stay there for a while.

We are very excited about “Fire,” a new doc project we are developing about one of the nation’s elite wildland firefighter corps and the extraordinary blazes they fight – and through telling their intimate stories, we open a window on a much larger problem – how climate change has brought the dangerous dawn of mega-fires to the American West.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox