Much-deserved CNN focus on Rwandan cinema (previously dubbed Hillywood – because Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills). Eric Kabera, founder and chairperson of the Rwanda Film Festival, the country’s first film school, and a filmmaker in his own right, is profiled in the encouraging and inspiring piece.
We’re probably all used to seeing the country via western lenses, and rarely, if ever, get to know the land and its people from the people themselves (although, recall my plug for a website called Voices Of Africa, which is essentially a virtual space for local citizen journalists in African countries to make their stories available for worldwide viewing. I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already!).
That there’s a film festival in Rwanda that’s now in its 7th 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 – and in many cases, non-Africans.
Eric Kabera previously worked for the BBC, covering the attrocities 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, obviously the international community is taking notice, with profiles like the one below from CNN, but also in the form of film financing, coming from organizations outside the country, and the continent.
Throw in partnerships with film organizations in the US (Tribeca Institute) and Sweden (Swedish Institute), who provide equipment and also exhange programs for aspiring Rwandan filmmakers.
Show Rwanda from a Rwandan perspective is obviously the goal; what’s uncertain is how foreign audiences will receive these films – hopefully not in sympathy.