How the EFF is creating an Afro-European link in the film industry

Birds Are Singing in Kigali’ stars Eliane Umuhire and Hervé Kimenyi, Dida Nibagwire (middle) with her co-actors, and Rwandan filmmaker Eric Kabera poses with some of the actors and film enthusiasts at the festival. / Courtesy photos

The European Union (EU) delegation in Rwanda holds an annual film festival. From ‘Birds are Singing in Kigali’ to over 10 more co-productions being screened at any of the six screening venues from across the country, the European Film Festival (EFF) is proving to be a crucial link between African and European filmmakers.

The EFF, which has become a household event on the annual showbiz calendar, is contributing towards developing a lucrative and sustainable film industry that is tapping into local talent.

The festival, which is now in its 5th edition, is organised by the EU delegation and its affiliated embassies, is usually held during the month of November as part of the ‘European Autumn of Culture’ in Rwanda.

Prior to the film festival opening, European Union Ambassador to Rwanda, Nicola Bellomo said that like the rest of EU’s cultural activities during the ‘European Autumn of Culture’, “The European Film Festival seeks not only to bring some of the best and recent cinema productions from Europe but to highlight some African content”

The films being screened at the festival include those from Europe and some from Rwanda and other African countries.

Festival curator, Clementine Dusabejambo, strongly believes that cinema is like an archive of the nations and is a pillar in shaping mankind’s conscience especially in the millennium where moving images are playing a major role in shaping the society.

“Cinema shapes how we think or view our history and how we perceive ourselves as human beings. Cinema has that power to enable us to experience the past in order to make peace with the present time and forge the future,” Dusebejambo says.

This is well expressed in the festival opening film ‘Birds Are Singing in Kigali’, a heart-breaking reflection on the aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi and the trauma it leaves behind. At the same time the film portrays optimism in human nature to overcome challenges.

“This film puts us at the heart a strong cinematic journey that leads us to a meeting point, where our humanities discover each other and create more doors to experience the ultimate magic of life,” said Dusabejambo, whose film ‘Icyasha’ was also screened during the festival.

‘Birds are singing in Kigali’ is a co-production, directed by Polish couple Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze.

The couple worked together for more than twenty years and lived in Rwanda for some years. Krzysztof died in 2014, halfway through making this film, and Joanna finished it alone. She painstakingly sketches a portrait of two scarred women, tackling issues such as racism and social trauma.

In the movie, Anna Keller is a Polish ornithologist specialising in carrion birds.  She is doing research in Rwanda in 1994 when the Genocide against the Tutsi breaks out, claiming over one million people.

Anna flees with twenty-something Claudine, whose family has been murdered. The two women have more in common than it first seems, as their shared history in Rwanda is gradually revealed. They try to start a new life in Poland, but easing the pain of the past proves difficult.

It is a story of loss and resilience indeed in which Rwanda’s celebrated actress Eliane Umuhire perfectly acted.

The films being screened at this ‘special edition’ are those that have stories of ‘Memory, Reflection or Prospects’

“These three words will accompany us through this special edition as 2019 marks 25 years of remembrance and reflection of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” said Dusabejambo.

Apart from ‘Birds are singing in Kigali’, which earned its very first screening in Kigali, 14 more films are being screened at different venues.

This year, the festival organisers co-hosted the film screenings with the Rwandan Girl Guides Association in Gikondo, Club Rafiki in Nyamirambo and youth centres in the districts of Rwamagana, Nyanza and Rubavu, in efforts to continue creating a more enriching experience for all audiences, young and old, in addition to the Children Panorama screenings.

The majority of the films on the screening line-up are co-productions by European and African filmmakers and present stories that cut across both continents or deal with topics relevant to Africans and Europeans alike.

The festival is increasingly attracting the attention from the film enthusiasts from hosting nation Rwanda, not forgetting the members of the community from European Union member countries living, doing business, spending their holidays or diplomatically representing their countries in Rwanda.

Among film enthusiasts, who attended the film screenings during the festival is Eric Santkin, the Trade and Investment Commissioner at the Belgian Embassy to Rwanda.

He told The New Times that the festival if explored accordingly, can be a big platform that can create a strong bond relationship and collaboration between African and European filmmakers by sharing experiences on how best to make the movie industry more creative and more profitable.

“This festival gives us a platform to share our experiences and best practices in this creative industry. The co-productions being screened at this year’s festival are a good sign that we are on the right path in terms of collaborations but there is pretty a lot to share yet between us,” he said.

Moviegoers attend the  2019 European film festival at Century Cinema. / Courtesy

editor@newtimesrwanda.com