I have not watched 23 year-old Mbabazi Philbert Aime’s award-nominated movie, Hutsi-Akaliza yet. However, going by the moderate profile it has built for itself and its owner so far, it should be a must watch when it eventually opens, hopefully sometime next month.
In May, Mbabazi’s film, and two others that made it to a competition dubbed “Best Reconciliation Film” will be premiered at the Kigali Serena Hotel, and the winner will walk away with a cash prize of one million francs. The two other films lined up are; Crossing Lines, by Samuel Ishimwe, and The Invincible, a documentary by Yves Montand Niyongabo.
Hutsi-Akaliza Keza is the story of Akaliza, a Genocide survivor in her mid twenties who is about to be married by her fiancé after impregnating her. Things take an ugly twist when she learns that her fiancé is Hutu.
She immediately cancels the marriage, even as she ponders what to do with the unborn baby in her womb. Akaliza’s father is dead, her mother is old, her young brother is dumb after he was severely hit on the head, and still wets his shorts at the age of 22. Akaliza is the only one who can make the family rise again. She plunges into a journey of self-destruction, and eventually contemplates abortion.
“My aim was to incite thinking, rethinking, or even meditation on the subject. I wanted to exploit not an easy way out but a serious facet of reconciliation. I don’t think my film will make people change their mind. I will be happy with just triggering a questioning spirit, because reconciliation is a process of own self and no exterior force can rush it,” he reckons.
How he got into film
Surprisingly, Mbabazi did not go to film school in the strict sense of the word. Just a seminar here, a workshop or film lab there, online tutorials, and it is from these that he learnt the ropes, building on a fascination with stories that date back to his childhood:
“Of course I used to like the tales our house girl would tell us. At nightfall we would surround her as she prepared dinner and listen to all those tales which was so enriching to me then. Later in high school, I started drawing stories and sharing them with my colleagues. I remember they were called “THE ADVENTURES OF JOAQIN”, I’m not sure I still have a copy. But I used to have imagination and time for meditation that I didn’t know what to do with.”
While in secondary school, Mbabazi continued to discover his interest in film. “In secondary school, through conversations with my colleagues, I discovered I could turn my passion for cinema into a job. I used to be an avid cine-phile, I consumed a lot of Hollywood movies. That was a turning point for me.”
While still in high school, Mbabazi gathered enough courage to delve into movie-making, a fact that led him to the Rwanda Cinema centre. “I had an idea for a documentary film I wanted to do and the only place I’d heard of that dealt with film making here was the Rwanda Cinema Centre.So I went straight there to seek for help to go shooting.
Though I didn’t get the support I was looking for, I met people who afterwards were important to me and I managed to shoot a part of the film in the holidays of August, returning to school a little late, the only bad thing cinema has done to me. I was in S6 and somehow lost focus on my studies, but I managed to finish anyway.”
After completing his studies in 2011 he embarked on attending different workshops in Rwanda, and Zanzibar. In 2012, after a film workshop under the theme: ‘‘A Sample of Work at Almond Tree Films’’, he made his first short film “Ruhago/Destiny FM.” It won Best Short Film award at the first edition of the Rwanda Movie Awards, and later that same year won the award for Best Upcoming Director at the Zanzibar International Film Festival.
“Filmmaking appeared to me as a rescue. I had finally found a way out for myself -way of expressing or conveying all those internal thoughts. I realised how our environment is full of untold stories. I realised that our voices shouldn’t remain silent permanently. I decided to plunge fully into filmmaking without plans of ever quitting despite any blockage,” he says.
To him, a good movie is that which “expresses the complexity of the human beings involved, no matter the story or the theme, because that complexity makes them unpredictable and plunges you in a journey whose destination you’ll only know when you reach it.
“A film being interesting is a subjective thing and very hard to explain because it doesn’t matter its genre, language or even its theme. Actually I recognise a good film from the feeling I get when I finish watching it. Films like 21 GRAMS (Alexandro Gonzalez Inaritu), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino), and Blue Velvet (David Lynch) made me feel like that.”
Apart from Hutsi-Akaliza, Mbabazi has two more short films to his credit; Ruhago/Destiny FM, and Mageragere/City Dropout. The two films are in post production and, hopefully, will be ready in a month.
He co-wrote UMUTOMA/The lovetalk, a feature film set for release mid this year, and recently shot a short film in Luxor, Egypt titled ASHURA. Presently, he is developing his first full-length feature film project, “God Protects Isimbi (A working title)”.
Mbabazi is all praises for his chosen trade: “Filmmaking makes you a creator; you create people and ways of life. That’s what Hollywood has been doing to us. And it’s pleasure to share a story with an audience and hoping they’ll go home with more than that story but also the experience that was embedded in it. It’s a big tool yet to be discovered and supported adequately here.”
Here, like all other budding film makers, Mbabazi cites the lack of resources as a major hindrance: “Getting your film made is the big issue. I always tell my friends how I made a 24minutes short film with a budget of $4,000 and they can’t believe it, but that’s the reality of this job. It’s so demanding financially. And we don’t have good producers, hence the lack of good films. A good film is born from the right filmmaker meeting the right producer.”
Mbabazi describes the local movie industry as a blend of the Bongo (Tanzania), and Nollywood (Nigeria) movie industries. “Rwandan filmmakers are still stuck in the belief that the reason for the bad local productions is because we don’t have a film school. I think we need to have more workshops by a little number of good filmmakers we are blessed to have here. We certainly don’t need people from Hollywood because they’re far away from our reality.”