ONCE upon a time the only thing about Rwanda’s movie industry was movies about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Movies such as 100 Days, Sometimes in April, Shooting Dogs and Shake Hands with the Devil were the only pictures the world saw about Rwanda.
In the after month of the 1994 Genocide, Eric Kabera, founder and president of Rwanda Cinema Centre (RCC) opened the first production studio, Link Media Productions, which is credited for the birth of films like 100 Days, the first feature length film on the 1994 Genocide that set off a wave of nurturing young upcoming script writers, movie directors, actors and actresses.
In 2001, Kabera opened Rwanda Cinema Centre, solely dedicated to improving the movie industry and set a standard for local Rwandan movies. In 2005, RCC introduced the annual Rwanda Film Festival that has come to be known as “Hillywood”. With this festival, a platform was set for Rwandan movie producers to showcase their work and benefit from various trainings that RCC offers.
During early 2000, Rwanda experienced an influx of International celebrities and movie producers who were eager to tell the Genocide story depending on which version they believed was true. The shooting of movies such as Hotel Rwanda (2004), Shooting Dogs (2005), Sometimes in April (2005), A Sunday in Kigali (2006) and Shake Hands with the Devil (2007), put Rwanda in the spot light of the movie world.
While these movies were premiering in various parts of the country, the local people were thinking of how to build a movie industry and earn from it as well.
“Compared to back in the day, we have made great strides but we still have a long way,” says Ryangombe and Rwasa star, Irakoza Regis aka Jay. This hard work has yielded countless movies, series, and documentaries while creating a new version of celebrities that was non-existent.
“I don’t know where these guys got the courage and passion to start shooting movies, but they are doing a good job. I’m impressed that I go out of my way to buy and watch most of these movies,” says Dieudonne Mugabo, a house keeper living in Kicukiro.
The passion with which he talks about Rwanda’s movie industry clearly shows on his facial expressions.
“Card after Card is one movie that moved me and made me realise that Rwanda isn’t far from Hollywood. It gave me the interest to watch other Rwandan movies and made me very proud,” Mugabo notes.
Arlette Mukiza, a 30-year- old mother, switched from Western movies because they don’t act real life situations. “The good thing about Rwandan movies is that they are about us. They portray good morals and educate the youth unlike Western movies that have lost touch with ethics,” she explains. “Kanyombya was very good and very funny without having to come out dirty,” Mukiza applauds the actor.
Rwandan local movies are now sold in many places around Kigali. It has created employment opportunities for countless people including hawkers. Walking on a street just besides Kigali City Tower is one such place where many local movies are sold.
“Mpa iriya (give me that one)” “Njyewe ndashaka season zosee (I want all seasons)” are some of the words that will clog your ears at this movie street just besides Kigali City Towers. It has a narrow entrance but when you get in, you have access to all the Rwandan movies you need.
“My favourite actor is Manzi (real name Kayumba vienne) and I love how he acts. I love his movies and for me those are the ones I buy first,” said one buyer as he jostled to pick his favourite movie.
Kampire Hakizimana owns a shop there. She has three other workers that help her run the very tiny shop. Since it was during morning hours, there seemed to be less activity but at around 6pm, the place was akin to a Nyabugogo Bus Park.
Kampire Hakizimana was still in her shop, she pointed at a shelf that contained more than 50 movies but said three quarters of the movies wouldn’t be there by the time she closed her shop. Hakizimana, who just joined the business six months ago, says she is making a killing off the movies and also sends out some other people to vend the movies on the street.
As Hakizimana is smiling all the way to the bank, there is a gloomy look on the faces of actors, actresses and producers. Vanessa Ingabire, an actress, laments about the level of pirating which makes them lose a lot of money. “It discourages us because if a director or producer doesn’t pay very well, no one will offer services. This is all because of people who pirate movies,” the actress says.
Movies and series cost between Rwf 1000 and Rwf 2000 in most places around town. Faustin Gatete, a movie vendor, says he has been in the business for about a year and three months and hopes to keep doing it for some time.
“I used to ride my uncle’s motorbike, in 2012 but when my friend introduced me to selling movies, I never turned back. It pays well, there are very few risks and willing buyers,” Gatete said.
“I move around town vending movies, I also do door to door deliveries to homes on order and I propose to people which new movies are out and which ones are worth spending money on. People call me when a new movie is out to ask if I have it.
He has been so influential in the business that when a producer brings a movie, he gives him some little money to market the movie. Due to his too much involvement in film, Gatete is known by many as “Schwarzenegger”.
Not all is rosy in the movie industry. Vanessa Ingabire says quack producers have infiltrated the industry. “How does someone who has been doing different work all of a sudden come up with a script of 30 scenes? Just because he has been a creative director somewhere doesn’t mean that he/she can be a movie producer.”
She further adds that there’s favouritism when it comes to picking actors. “Some producers prefer to use their relatives who have no passion or art of acting.
However, Sandra Umumararungu says that people still don’t value locally made movies. “People have a wrong mindset about the movie industry. “Some actors have been called prostitutes, witches, murderers, just because they took a particular role that involved killing or being a sex worker. Secondly, there’s little or no support at all. We have a standard cinema at KCT but have they ever screened any local production! We are supported by people who make-shift video halls,” Umumararungu said.
Bahati Habiyambere, a former member of music group Just Family, started movie production recently and has made one movie called Akaliza that was a hit. He is currently putting final touches on another movie Ruzagayura which will be out on March 24.
Being new in the market, his first movie that had three parts, sold almost 10,000 copies for each of the parts. “Much as we earn something, we also spend a lot, for example transport, food, and equipment are very expensive. I pay actors about Rwf 15,000 – Rwf 10,000 per scene. So you find that in only 10 scenes you have to pay Rwf 150,000,” he complains. Bahati is optimistic that one time he will be selling one million copies of his movies and then he will say he is earning.
Actress Sandra Umumararungu says that the industry is doing better than the above figures. “Unless, an actor or an actress is relatively new, the more accomplished local movie stars earn between Rwf 400,000 and Rwf 700,000. This money can cater for a family and pay for university tuition,” she says.
Irakoze Regis emphasises the need to work together as a way of promoting the movie industry. “People in the movie industry are hypocrites and don’t wish others well. We need to put these bad habits on the side and work together because no one will grow this industry if not us. Once we do, the future will be bright,” he notes.
“If you want to join the industry, please look at what you do best. Don’t be the actor, producer, director and script writer. You have to specialise and learn what you can do best to be good at it otherwise things are likely to fail for you,” Bahati advises.
What do you think about Rwanda’s film industry?
Does this industry exist? I mean, the only time I hear about Rwandan films is during Rwanda Film Festival and then it disappears. I don’t think the movie industry in Rwanda is strong enough to make a huge impact because they don’t even advertise on radio or television. If they are to make an impact, they need to start using all social media techniques available, hold movie premiers and do aggressive marketing. Otherwise, it will stay in oblivion when there might be raw talent wasting away.
Isaiah Iraguha, Social worker
I think just like the entire entertainment industry, there is still a long way to go but we cannot be blind to the fact there has been commendable progress. For an industry that is so young and untapped, it is worth noting that the potential that film makers have shown; having their movies viewed even as far as Europe is something to be proud of. What we need now are more film schools and obviously investors. It would also help if Rwandans started paying attention to their home grown talent by watching the films and also by trying to promote the industry by avoiding piracy.
Angela Kamikazi, Copy writer
I think the people involved have done a commendable job. They have shot movies, distributed them and all we have done to support them is “continue buying and watching” western movies. We need to play our part too. Let’s get these movies into our living rooms, talk about them on social media like we do with other movies, sponsor and support them. I have had a chance to interact with some people in the movie industry and they always talk about how people don’t see acting as real business yet all the big celebrities also started small, only that they had support. We need to support them.
Vincent Muhire, Pharmacist
I think the movie industry has really grown. I remember back in the day, all you could find were genocide movies and they could really get depressing. I waited a long time for someone to show another side of Rwanda because all people knew about us then was the Genocide. I’m glad that now they get to see Rwanda in a different perspective. When foreigners watch locally made movies now, they don’t stop at watching the movie but they look at the background scenes like roads, nature and nice buildings.
Venus Mutoniwase, Nurse