On February 24th, in the German capital Berlin, Rwandan history will be made.
Imfura, a co-production by budding local filmmaker Samuel Inshimwe Karemangingo will be screened at this year’s edition of the Berlinale International Film Festival, becoming the first Rwandan entry at the prestigious festival that was established in 1951.
Imfura is a collaborative work between Rwanda and Switzerland, the country where Ishimwe honed his filmmaking skills. The filmmaker is a fresh graduate of the Geneva University of Arts and Design, where he enrolled in September 2015, majoring in Cinema.
Even before joining film school in Switzerland, he had already embarked on his film journey back home. At 25, he is one of the younger budding filmmakers in the country. As far as film is concerned, Ishimwe describes himself as a “writer, producer, and director”.
As a writer, director and producer he boasts two films to his name; Paying Debts (his first film project, in 2011, and which was screened at the Rwanda Film Festival the same year), and Crossing Lines. As a cinematographer (Director of Photography), He worked on Crossing Lines, and Mageragere/City Dropout, a film by Philbert Aime Mbabazi.
Because of these credentials, he did two years of film school instead of three:
“I started school in the second year. With the film work I had done in Rwanda prior to going to the school, I was given the credits for the first year. I graduated in June 2017 after presenting my film Imfura as my diploma work. I also did a thesis on the work of Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety who is one of my cinema influences,” he reveals.
What makes Imfura to easily stand out among his other film works is perhaps the fact that the film is a reflection of Ishimwe’s own life.
He lost both parents in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, becoming an orphan at just three years. Today, he has only one blood relation, a brother. His early years were spent living among different families.
He attended Ecole Primaire APAPER in Kicukiro Disrtict, O-level at College Saint Andre in Nyamirambo, and Advanced level at SOS Hermann Gmeiner Technical High School. He went on to study journalism at the University of Rwanda’s Great Lakes Media Center.
Imfura is a story set in the immediate post-genocide Rwanda. The 36 minute film follows Gisa, a young woman who decides to travel down to the village where once lived his mother, who disappeared during the genocide.
She is soon entangled in a family feud over ownership of the ruins of her mother’s house. Caught between the contradictions of a changing society, Gisa, who is almost the same age as the new Rwanda, seeks to rediscover her share of the collective memory of a past that belongs to her, but also so far away.
“It was a great honor to be selected at the Berlinale. The making of the film was a tough but very enriching experience,” Ishimwe reacted soon after news of his selection at the Berlinale broke on social media.
“To be selected at one of the top festivals in the world means that what we did resonates with a universal audience, and that is what I always hope for whenever I make a film. I hope that being the first Rwandan to be drawn in the official competition at Berlinale will attract the world’s attention to the energy and talent that is growing in Rwanda in terms of filmmaking.”
Ishimwe can’t wait for his imminent flight to the German capital Berlin, where the festival will be staged.
“At Berlinale I expect to meet and discuss cinema with film professionals from around the world, and to learn and exchange different ethics of work. I’m also looking forward to expanding my professional network.”
In a 2014 interview, Ishimwe shared his filmmaking dream, a dream that seems to have come to fruition with his trailblazing selection at the Berlinale. He said;
“My dream is to see my films alongside other Rwandan and African films, being part of the world cinema and standing confidently in front of films from around the world, and that is more of a goal than a dream.”
“Being a filmmaker has challenged me to be stronger intellectually, to learn about other people’s lives, and to be tolerant and less judgmental.”
He professes a fond attachment to the film medium and storytelling from a very early age. He loved to make illustrations for his classmates while in primary school, besides a self-confessed addiction to movies. Eventually, he decided to chart a career path out of his life’s passion.
In high school, he was happy to learn about the Rwanda Cinema Center, and even happier to learn that he was just a small step away from achieving his filmmaking dreams.
After high school in 2010, he attended different workshops organized by the Rwanda Cinema Centre, Almond Tree Films, and the Kampala-based Maisha Film Lab, among others, to hone his craft.
Through Imitana Productions, his production company, Ishimwe intends to start organizing film workshops to share his knowledge and skills with upcoming filmmakers.