Addressing disability through film

“I’m very sure you can guess why I’m here before you. We can’t say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity, then turn a blind eye to the reality of each other’s existence. We “others” always face problems in our everyday lives because we look different. Today it’s me, tomorrow it may be you, but I don’t want you to face marginalization. May you never be recognized as “others”.
Group photo with partners after the gala. (Moses Opobo)
Group photo with partners after the gala. (Moses Opobo)

“I’m very sure you can guess why I’m here before you. We can’t say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity, then turn a blind eye to the reality of each other’s existence. We “others” always face problems in our everyday lives because we look different. Today it’s me, tomorrow it may be you, but I don’t want you to face marginalization. May you never be recognized as “others”. 

Her voice may have been shrill and rather shaky, but the point had been made to the select gathering at Century Cinema on Thursday night. The German Cultural Center in Kigali (Goethe Institut was hosting a film screening gala to showcase the winning films for the 2015 Script and Film competition. 

The winning entries for the competition were: One Leg, One Love, by Alexandre Sibomana, which took the first prize; Through My Eyes (Etiquette), by Marie Clémentine Dusabejambo, while in third position was My Responses, a film by Jean de Dieu Minani. 

Marie-Clémentine Dusabejambo’s Through My Eyes tackles the subject of discrimination against albinos in Rwandan society, and it’s the reason she invited her friend Valentine, an albino onto stage. 

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Marie Clementine Dusabejambo.

And obviously, Valentine’s words left a deeper impression in the audience than the fact that she is an albino. 

Valentine chose not to speak just for albinos alone, but all marginalized groups in society – what she termed “others”. 

“Usually that is people with disability, women, poor people – all those we think are different from us,” she explained, adding: “Diversity is the spice of life, right” ? she asked in rhetoric, and this drew a spontaneous chorus of “yes” from cinemagoers. 

“As long as we still focus on our differences, this inclusion we’re looking for will always remain in speeches. Let us join together and fight a good fight,” she concluded.

“One of the greatest things I learnt while doing research particularly for this film is that everyone is unique in his or her own ways, and sometimes our differences define the way we see things,” revealed Marie Clementine Dusabejambo, who directed the film. 

“This discrimination and stigma we’re talking about tonight to those that we refer to as others is very real, but only those who are experiencing it can describe how painful it really is,” she added. 

Through My Eyes traces the story of a young girl, Elikia, who is an albino and who has to come face-to-face with societal prejudices and ignorance about albinism, right from home, where her father abandons Elikia’s mother for producing an albino, to kindergarten where she has to deal with harsh attitudes not just from fellow pupils, but also the school administration and parents to her schoolmates.

The winning film, Alexandre Sibomana’s One Leg, One Love is a real-life account of the life, trials, tribulations and triumphs of the popular Rastafarian, businessman and social activist – Emmanuel Gatera Rudasingwa of the famous Mulindi Japan One Love project. 

In the film, we see how Gatera’s Rastafarian beliefs lead him to get involved in charity work.

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Rasta Gatera talks about starring in 'One Leg, One Love'. (Moses Opobo)

Together with his Japanese wife, Mummy Rudasingwa, Gatera founded the non-profit organization, Mulindi Japan One Love Project in 1992. 

Gatera first presented the idea for the project in the Mulindi-Byumba area of Northern Rwanda, where he presented the project to the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) during the liberation struggle.

Its implementation started in 1995, a year after the genocide had been stopped by the RPF.

The project manufactured artificial limbs for persons with disabilities, and some of the first beneficiaries were casualties of the genocide as well victims of Polio, which Gatera himself contracted at an early age after receiving a wrong injection. 

Because of its critical contribution to Rwandan society, the project receives financial and material support both from government and partner non-profit donor entities. The project has since expanded to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, where it runs a workshop.

Gatera and his wife were present at the gala, and later picked the award on behalf of the film director, Alexandre Sibomana, who was reportedly away in Tanzania.

“Actually this is not my story. It’s my husband’s story. I know how he has struggled since he was a child, so it’s a pleasure to introduce him to Rwandan public,” remarked Gatera’s wife who is commonly called Mummy Rudasingwa after the event. 

Jean de Dieu Minani, whose film, My Responses secured him third place commended the various workshops from Rwanda Media Project that he attended about production, documentary filmmaking, and post production: 

My Responses is the true life story of a man, Thomas, a crippler who soon finds that he has to fight for his life with the very people that are supposed to protect him – his family. 

“The idea for my film did not come just for this competition because I had the idea like three months before the competition. As a filmmaker I always find ideas everywhere I go,” he explained.

Daring to be different

This was the third edition of the annual film and script competition organized by the Goethe Institut Kigali (German Cultural Center), GIZ, Partnership Rhineland-Palatinate/Rwanda and the Kfw Development Bank. It was launched on 2 April 2015.

This edition went under the motto; Inclusion-Dare to be different, and focused specifically on the challenges and opportunities of living with disability in Rwanda, with the overall goal of contributing to the on-going societal debate on the topic. 

During the launch in April 2015, prospective participants were briefed by representatives of the National Council of Persons with Disability (NCPD), the National Union of Disabilities Organization of Rwanda (NUDOR), and filmmakers Eric Kabera and Mark Szilagyi of the Kwetu Film Institute. 

Young Rwandan filmmakers were urged to write scripts of five pages or less, which were to be submitted by 6 May 2015. An independent international jury assessed the 60 submitted texts and selected three winners. The awardees received technical assistance from Kwetu Film Institute, as well as financial assistance from the project partners to produce their films between August 2015 and January 2016.

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Cinephiles had a good time at the gala. (Moses Opobo)

“The third edition of the film script competition concentrated on the topic of inclusion in the sense of realizing the potential of people living with disabilities. Everybody should freely, openly and without pity accommodate a person with disability,” remarked Markus Litz, Director of the Goethe Institut Kigali, the organizers of the competition. 

“We therefore encouraged the script writers to elaborate on the potential of inclusion of persons with disabilities, regarding both social inclusion in family and schools, as well as regarding professional inclusion by giving rights of access to training, jobs and self-employment. 

Inclusion is closely linked to offering a perspective for a better life –for a sustainable social and economic development both of a society as well of individual living conditions,” he concluded. 

Generally, the films were commended for adhering to and highlighting the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which recognizes participation, self-determination and equality of people with disabilities. 

The underlying and cross-cutting message in all three winning films is the need to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. 

Hopefully, the films will go a long way in raising awareness for the essential right of every person to participate in the development of a society.

Last year’s scriptwriting competition addressed the theme of “Rethinking Reconciliation” and there were three winning entries out of 40 scripts submitted.