Uwizeye: My role in ‘The 600’ documentary

Annette Uwizeye and Richard Hall, producers of The 600 documentary, which reveals how RPA soldiers stopped the genocide. / Courtesy

Following its limited public release in Rwandan cinemas last month, ‘The 600’ received massive reception by local audiences.

In two weeks, the movie screening had an attendance of 3200 people for just two screenings per day, and on many occasions, tickets ran out, prompting organisers to extend dates for screening.

The 117 minutes documentary was released on July 3 and the people who watched it went to social media to show their gratitude for a film that finally depicted in all authenticity the sacrifices made by RPA soldiers who liberated the country from one of the darkest periods of the country’s history – the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

While there are other stories that have been told about the liberation struggle, ‘The 600’ sought to unravel some of the daring rescues made by the RPA while at the same time under enemy fire to try and save civilians who were facing certain death while trapped in churches, the stadium, and their homes.

Richard Hall, the Executive Producer and Writer with Great Blue Productions says the reaction, although overwhelming, was well deserved, given the angle of the story, the time and resources put into the film.

“Honestly, I was hoping that the film would be appreciated for recognising the courage of the soldiers who rescued civilians, and that it would be inspiring for younger Rwandans as well as make the soldiers proud.

The response has been more than I even hoped for, and it seems the film strikes a chord across many generations that shows there has been a need to tell more stories like this about that time,” Hall told the Sunday Times.

For Annette Uwizeye, what motivated the partnership with Great Blue Productions and A Wize Media was the gap that existed in packaging the incredible story of the liberation in Rwanda.

For over eight years, A WizeMedia has been telling stories for corporations, non-profits, and international clients.

One memorable international client project that the studio worked on was an episode called ‘War and Peace’ that is part of Morgan Freeman’s series called ‘The Story of Us’ that aired on National Geographical channel in 2017.

Another such production project is an episode titled ‘My Kigali’ from the MY Africa Series, that was produced by Los Angeles-based Television, The Africa Channel.

Annette’s involvement as a producer in The 600 was significant as the collaboration with an experienced Hollywood producer allowed her more involvement as a local in the story building, production and general distribution process, something that most other international productions don’t afford locals.

On his part, Hall shared that most of the movies about Rwanda he has come across have featured foreign movie companies, who share the focus with western characters who were there for part of that time. As such he wanted to make a movie that only featured Rwandans who lived through the experience.

“Making quality films requires a lot of resources, many well trained people as well. I think all the pieces for that are here in Rwanda, and if more films are made with local talent, it can grow.”

The biggest challenge, Uwizeye disclosed, in telling historical stories is finding archives, as many of the archives are owned by international media houses and the cost to acquire remains extremely high.

Fortunately they were able to overcome some of the cost by getting access to aarchives from the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency and the Ministry of Defence and other private contributors.

“Every film is hard work,” Uwizeye reveals, “it took 18 months to produce ‘The 600’- one story angle of so many that were uncovered, so to decide which story to take and leave was not an easy task.”

Thirteen years ago, the filmmaker took a one year sabbatical leave to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life upon realising that although she was studying a Finance course at University of South Africa, that is not what she wanted.

Her turning point came after watching a South African promotional video for ‘A life with possibilities,’ that made her so emotional. It was then that she understood the power of film.

She immediately switched from Accounting Sciences to a four year degree motion picture production, after realising she wanted to create impact through entertainment.

“As A Wize Media,” Uwizeye reveals, “we would like to go into niche areas around African cultures, wildlife and nature content, as well as African history which remains largely untold if at all correctly told.

Let’s bring back our history to ourselves because there is so much to learn from, for me that was a big motivatingfactor in working on The 600 Film. The research period was intense as we needed to interlink 25 year old stories between rescuers and rescuees.”

The current demand we are witnessing for The 600 film from Rwandans and others outside of Rwanda, she adds, just proves the need for such stories and that there is an audience for them.

“Being part of the 600 production is a huge boost, it’s what we have wanted for the last eight years but we could only pull it off because of the experience we as a team have gathered along the way. This is one step into the direction we have been working towards,” she says.

Bigger impact

The impact for Uwizeye went beyond just the screening, to the economic impact as an international feature length production.

“Locally on the film, we had to hired over 60 people, we had 8 experienced researchers and Consultants on the project, a Production Design team led by Moukhtar Omar Sibomana, a CGI animations team under Guez Show led by Mufuth Nkurunziza.

The kind of financing we got for the 600, we were able to not just create work but to also acquire an excellent opportunity to further our experience. Imagine if A Wize Media is able to produce ten such productions per year,that would impact the industry positively,” she says.

In the initial stages of the film, Nano Studios, was birthed to become home for their first big movie production for the next 18 months as well as hire space and create a production for media content creators.

With a coffee shop, event garden, offices for rent, workshop and training area, TV studio, the space proved film producers needed big facilities to pull off productions.

“Many freelance producers work in coffee shops but Nano Studios will provide a space where international producers can use as temporary space to work from. The vision is to have one of these in every African city”.

Going forward, the filmmaker has another big production in the pipeline that she hopes will be hitting the cinema next year.

“It’s a coming of age story of a young woman who comes to Kigali and is shocked by the life in the city. We wrote, auditioned for actors but failed to raise the funds but we hope to release the film in cinemas by February, next year.”

For now, due to the demand from diaspora and international communities, her team will be focusing on screenings in other cities in Africa, although details will be announced this summer.

“The overwhelming support proves that there will be opportunity to make more stories like this, locally and have them watched at the cinema. It’s very feasible,” she says.

For Hall, ‘The 600’is just one of the other projects related to events in 1994 that he wants to develop, as he believes that there are more inspiring stories and people who should be recognised.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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