Earlier in March, when filmmaker Joel Kerekezi was announced winner of the ‘Etalon d’Or de Yennenge’ during the 2019 Pan-African Film and Television Festival (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, his prize was a testimony of how far the Rwandan film industry has gone on the international scene.
His film, “The Mercy of the Jungle” was a major statement that the Rwandan film industry was growing bigger and better on the international stage despite challenges hindering it from progressing.
“The world has got to know the level the Rwandan film industry has reached and the cinema world continues to honour the great job done by Rwandan filmmakers. That is why our films go on to challenge at major international film festivals,” says Karekezi.
Before the Genocide, the local film industry was non-existent because all the stories about Rwanda were told by foreign filmmakers and as a result, some of the stories on the history of the Genocide, were either told in a wrong or biased context.
The post-genocide era, however, has been a period of revelation in the film industry that saw the first film The 100 Days, by Rwandan filmmaker Eric Kabera, produced.
The title of the film is a direct reference to the length of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, from April 6 until it ended on July 4, 1994.
From the beginning of the 21st century, a lot of films by young filmmakers were produced, mainly focusing on telling true stories about what the country went through.
Many films were produced including, “Sometimes in April”, “Shake Hands with the Devil”, “Keepers of Memory”, “Imfura” and “The Pardon”, to name a few.
Currently, “The 600” is trending. All these movies have stories that share with the world the truth about Rwanda’s past while also preserving the memory.
John Kwezi, the President of Rwanda Film Federation, hailed local filmmakers for their resilient contribution in showing the world the truth about what the country went through which has been instrumental in helping the global community understand the true story.
“Our part is to produce true stories because we are part of the country’s history and we are in the right position to tell our own stories and our vision,” Kwezi said.
However, according to Karekezi, there are still a lot of stories to tell. To be specific, not many films have been produced about liberation in tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives to bring security to the country and unite it.
“Foreign filmmakers tell stories about our country the way they want for their own purposes. Local filmmakers have a big task in researching about Rwandan history if they are contribute towards showing the truth of what the country went through their films. Rwandan history should be told and we should tell true stories that will help future generations know the truth about our country’s past,” Karekezi told The New Times.
The Rwanda film industry has evolved a lot like many other sectors in the country.
“People can now recognize filmmakers and what it means, young kids can now come to school and aspire to learn from the generation that preceded them, and this is the reason why we set up the film and television school,” said Eric Kabera, the Director of Kwetu Film Institute.
To prove how far the industry has gone, a number of local filmmakers’ efforts has been honored, including the likes of Joel Karekezi for his award at FESPACCO, Samuel Ishimwe in Berlin International Film Festival, Clementine Dusabejambo and many more.
“25 years ago none could have believed that a Rwandan story teller and filmmaker would be able to have a continental prize and this is how far the Rwandan film industry has travelled in terms of shaping the Rwandan narrative. We still have a long way to go but we have come from far,” Kabera adds.
Every year there is a story about Rwanda’s past, present and recovery and now development. The Rwandan story is present and is seen around the world.
Kwezi, on the other hand, admits Rwanda’s film industry which was born after the Genocide cannot be compared to industries like Hollywood (USA) or Nollywood (Nigeria) among others which have been there for over a century.
“Our industry is young but amazingly growing fast. We can celebrate the work we are have done so far though we still have a lot to do,” he says
Though online platforms like ZacuTV by Afrifame which were established to take local film to a growing bigger audience, filmmakers claim the industry still needs screening halls where Rwandans can watch films made locally as well as encourage local TV stations to cooperate with them so their films can reach a bigger audience.
“If our films can be screened at international cinema halls, it is because local filmmakers have interesting stories and have skills to produce movies worth watching. The problem we have is that we don’t have screening halls in our country. There should be at least, a screening in each of the country’s districts so people can watch our films,” claims Karekezi
Filmmakers also call for funding to support filmmakers in capacity building and production, co-production with foreign filmmakers as long as the industry has the potential to contribute to the country’s GDP (economy).
“We got professional skills in film making from different workshops we attended in different countries but I think it is high time the government, in partnership with the private sector, thought about establishing film schools, and even give aspiring filmmakers scholarships to study film making at international universities so they can come and spread the skills to fellow filmmakers,” Kwezi added.
There is political will to support the industry, especially through the Rwanda Film Office which will be a link for local and international filmmakers to ensure co-productions, and creating other partnerships aimed at branding the country and boost its tourism.