He was part of the Rwanda Defence Force for nearly 10 years, thereafter, Willy Ndahiro had the urge to continue building the nation through film, and that was the inspiration behind joining the industry.
For 12 years now, he prides himself in the fact that he has grown within the industry despite the challenges. Going by what he has achieved in the last 12 years, and the number of film projects currently on his hands, one can’t fault the filmmaker for this ‘daring’ career move.
He hit the scene in 2006, working with Schilo Film Productions as the main actor in his debut film ‘Ikigeragezo Cy’ubuzima’ (Life Temptations), a successful series in Rwanda’s film industry.
This put him in the lime light. In 2010, he directed and played the lead role in a movie titled, Ay’u Rukundo, followed by ‘Anita’, which he directed and acted in 2012. He has acted in over 20 films including the recent ‘Seed of Memories’ that has been selected in several film festivals across the continent.
“I’ve liked acting since my childhood, so after fulfilling my mission in the army, I decided to follow my childhood dream. I draw inspiration from legends like Jean-Claude Van Damme whom I have always imitated, even when still in the army. Joining the film industry was a good decision,” Ndahiro says.
Having joined the industry at its infant stage, the 41-year-old actor says the beginning was tough, with the industry characterised by poor skills, little or no funds and, piracy.
“Times have now changed. We have been working hard and you can tell that the future is bright for this industry,” he says.
WORKING TO REDEFINE THE INDUSTRY
Ndahiro owns a local casting agency Hillywood Actors & Models Agency (HAMA) that promotes models and actors working hand-in-hand with film production companies and casting agencies. He was recently elected vice chairperson of Rwanda Film Federation.
“We are working with African film giants to expand and take our movies beyond borders. We started with actors first and we have worked with advertising agencies. We also want to work with film producers because they do not realise the role we play. They are used to casting models only. I am working hand-in-hand with Rwanda Film Federation to make this happen,” Ndahiro says about his agency.
Last month, he signed partnership with West African film experts, Nonstop African Entertainment (NAE) production house, based in Ghana. The company has already built partnerships with filmmakers from 27 countries across Africa.
The pan-African company aims at producing and promoting African films, while also providing support in terms of business advisory, project management and creating a pool of talented ‘edutainers.’
“This, in a way, is a competition because these people are our pioneers in the film industry and if they are coming to invest in East Africa they come with their quality. This also means that we need to humble ourselves and learn a lot from them,” Ndahiro says.
During their stay, the film giants that included Nigerian film star Zack Orji, also met with local filmmakers and actors in a three-day master class workshop to share skills with them in terms of creativity (acting, film production) and business (film content distribution). The masterclass also attracted a number of West African actors. They worked out collaborations between Nigerian superstars and young rising actors.
The partnership between HAMA and NAE also included providing actors who will be doing collaborations with West African stars.
“Our industry has had challenges in terms of acting, film production and the distribution of our content was not that good. We really need such skills and experience from partners like Nonstop African Entertainment,” Ndahiro says.
“In this particular masterclass, we gathered at least 400 talented filmmakers who attended. I am very proud. We focused on acting, film production and film distribution, the three major challenges that our sector suffers. We worked with Nigerians, Ghanaians and Kenyans and we hope to go to francophone countries like Benin and Burkina Faso,” Ndahiro adds.
He argues that the biggest challenge cited among actors is their limited language skills. Language development is the next target for the federation.
“It’s good for an actor to know many languages. Our trainers and several other film experts have noted how Rwandan actors are talented people but ought to learn other international languages if we are to tap into the international market. Kinyarwanda can only keep us locally successful,” he says.
Being fluent in Swahili, French, English and Kinyarwanda, Ndahiro reveals that his linguistic skills have enabled him climb the ladders in the industry. Besides acting, he helped translate the ‘Seed of Memories’ script from English to Swahili.
About the future of Hillywood, Ndahiro is optimistic that the industry is destined for success as the Ministry of Sports and Culture that is in charge of the local film industry has already worked out a budget to support local films.