Rwandan filmmaker upbeat as short film debuts at Locarno Film Festival

Emmanuel Ngabo relaxing at his home in Rugando, Kigali. / Photo by Joseph Njata.

In late January, two Rwandan short films pre-premiered at Goethe – Institut, Kigali. The two films had been developed in a training workshop entitled ‘Power of Constraints’. Three Rwandan filmmakers; Samuel Ishimwe, Philbert Aimé Mbabazi and Remy Ryumugabe were the mentors.

 “Fish Bowl”, a film directed by Emmanuel Ngabo was one of the two short films. It follows a story about an introverted artist who is confronted by his uncle on the night before his mother’s burial. The artist is abruptly faced with unforeseen feelings for a close friend.


 The film received official selection to screen at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. It was also one of the contenders in the official competition ‘Pardo di domani’ at the festival.


 While talking to Variety Magazine, Charlotte Corchète, Locarno Film Festival’s head of the selection committee named Fish Bowl among the 10 short films not to miss at the ongoing film festival.


 As a young filmmaker just starting out, Ngabo was very excited to receive the good news. The festival kicked off on August 5 and ends Saturday.

 “When I first read the email, I thought it was just good thing to have my film screen at Locarno. I had no idea how important this meant to my career until my brother explained everything,” he recalls.

 According to the first-time film director, the story inspiration came from the events that took place the night when his mother passed on.

 Ngabo, whose artistic name is Ngabo wa Ganza, was born in Rubavu District twenty-three years ago. He took his A-level studies at APE Rugunga where he studied History, Economics and Geography. He’s also an upcoming sculptor.

Ngabo’s brother, Ganza who’s also a filmmaker suggested that he should apply for ‘Power of Constraints’ workshop.

“I immediately started writing a short story about a funeral and submitted it. I was later contacted as one of the successful participants. That’s how my journey in filmmaking began” he recounts.

The workshop applicants had to write stories about a certain person and a place as an experimental ground for their story pitches. The story ideas had to revolve around a certain real-life experience that they could relate to and create captivating fictional elements around it.

The training workshop was very unique for Ngabo and it was an opportunity for him to learn more from others and share experiences.

“I think Constraints Workshop was a very unique for me because we were privileged to have local mentors. They were not only young and easy to connect with but they also understood most of our challenges,” he noted

“I think we could not have had a similar experience with foreign mentors. It also gave us a sense of pride as Rwandans learning from fellow citizens,” he adds

If there is one lesson that Ngabo took from the workshop, it was about the working relationship between a film director and actors.

 “As a film director, I will never forget that I need to communicate well with my actors on how I want them to perform. It is a new skill that I want to work hard to develop” he says.

 Ngabo’s advice to upcoming filmmakers is very candid -watch and learn from others.

 “I would like to advise upcoming filmmakers, who are basically like me, to watch as many films as they can. I think watching great films is a source of inspiration for us to make better films,”

Just like other artists in different fields, Ngabo has been affected by Covid-19 pandemic which has disrupted the arts and creative industry.

“The current pandemic has made it impossible for me to travel to the festival in Switzerland to present my film in person. However, one of my producers, Philibert Aimé Mbabazi, is currently attending the festival,” 

“On the other hand, this is an ample time for filmmakers to write new film scripts” he adds. 

The film was produced by Imitana Productions.

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