Rwandan actress Eliane Umuhire was the centre of attention at the 52nd edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) in the Czech Republic last week. Her role in the film Birds Are Singing In Kigali, a Polish film about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, won her a joint Best Actress award together with Jowita Budnik another lead character in the film.
Directed by the Polish filmmaking couple of Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzystof Krauze (the latter has since passed away), the film’s plot is set in both Rwanda and Poland where it was shot.
Its lead characters are the Rwandan actress Umuhire Eliane, who plays the character of Claudine Mugambira, a young Tutsi genocide survivor, and Anna Keller, a Polish ornithologist played by Polish actor Jowita Budnik.
Umuhire and Budnik walked away with a joint Best Actress award at the famous International Film Festival.
The win came as a pleasant surprise to the actress, who was playing her first international movie role:
“It was a total surprise! I didn’t expect it. I attended the festival mainly to share with the world the premiere of the movie. As you know this is an A class festival in the same slot as Cannes. So having the movie premiering there was a huge privilege and mainly the pride and joy of seeing the name of Rwanda there. It was once more an opportunity of sharing our story of overcoming grief and strife as a whole nation.”
Jowita Budnik, Umuhire’s co-star in the film accompanied her to receive the joint award at the star-studded ceremony in the Czech city of Karlovy Vary. Shortly after, the two were swarmed by TV cameras to share their experience:
“It was first learning to work together, and then learning Jowita as a person, and then later on as a character, so it’s been an amazing journey made of crying and laughing. We learnt a lot and this win can tell the result of how it was,” Umuhire said for her part. In Rwanda, several people took to Umuhire’s Facebook page to shower her with praises.
“Congratulations Eliane Umuhire on your Best Actress award! You deserve this one and more coming your way! Lots of love, and appreciation from all of us,” read a message from The Art House.
“Sending huge congratulations and love to Eliane Umuhire who won the Best Actress award at Karlovy Vary Film Festival last week. What a kind, glowing, elegant and intelligent soul you are. The world is lucky to have you. I hope you are enjoying every single moment of this!,” read another message from Eriko Azuma.
Umuhire described her experience playing the character of Claudine Mugambira as “an honor and a humbling experience.”
“It was not an easy character. It was about going through her trauma but also her amazing strength, dignity and desire to live. Even though it was a fictional character it was a character that was depicting the wounds that many survivors have been carrying with them, and at the same time the struggle to live. I dropped down all my acting knowledge and just learnt to “be.” I wanted to be right and do justice to this story in the most possible reality.”
She chose to portray the character “in a way that would not provoke empathy from the viewer, but rather something that would provoke a reaction and an action.
“It was a great experience and a good moment of learning and discovering my own capabilities,” she concluded.
According to Jolie Murenzi, the film’s Production designer, art director and line producer, Birds Are Singing In Kigali will premiere in Kigali soon, in partnership with the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG).