For over 10 years, the Rwandan film industry has grown in stature and at a pace that is not only impressive but equally ambitious. Motion pictures—preferably the most captivating medium of visual entertainment have captured the Rwandan and international audiences.
Recently, in October 2010, Pierre L. Kayitana, the Director General of the Rwanda Cinema Centre (RCC) and the Rwanda Film Festival, was appointed by the Royal Family of the United Kingdom as World Ambassador of Film Without Borders.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Gloria A. Iribagiza, Kayitana 24 years, who has also been a filmmaker for six years, highlighted the major 2010 landmarks in Rwanda’s Film Industry.
How was the Rwanda Cinema Centre (RCC) established?
In 2002, the RCC was an idea that was conceived by Eric Kabera, the founder of RCC. At that time, there were so many journalists, filmmakers, documentary makers in the country who had no experienced local people to work with.
When they came to Rwanda, they traveled with whole crews. Therefore, the idea of the cinema centre was to empower local people to work with international filmmakers. We have worked with Aljazera English, CNN, France 24, NHK Japan, Sky News, BBC and many others.
What are RCC’s core values?
RCC is a non-profit organization that has the mandate to develop a viable film industry in Rwanda. Through the Hillywood and the Rwanda Film Festival event, we have been able to create a film making culture, encourage people to watch movies and we have trained young filmmakers in projects that have built their capacity as self-employed youth involved in income generating activities.
Most of these projects kicked off in 2005. However, since I became a filmmaker six years ago, 2010 has recorded the highest number of requests to shoot various events and movies in Rwanda and we at RCC have done it. We have managed to change the face of film in the country.
What was RCC’s biggest 2010 achievement?
The movie ‘Africa United’ topped it all.
In Africa, it is very rare to see countries making movies to the standard off Hollywood. But Rwanda is making a difference and we are behind these achievements. Africa United is an idea from Rwanda. Eric Kabera wrote the script and in collaboration with other partners directed and made the movie. It is a story about five children who travel 3,000 miles across Africa to attend the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA football World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is a very beautiful story, it is non-genocide, and it is about showing the new Africa.
According to several international movie reviews, it is considered the ‘Best African Film of the year.’
How did ‘Africa United’ become so successful?
First of all, ‘Africa United’ is a co-production between the UK, South Africa and Rwanda. Rwanda is now creating stories and people from around the whole world are getting compelled to invest in our ideas. That is why this movie has shown at international Film Festivals in London, Tokyo, New York, Toronto, South Africa and other countries.
The originality of the story and the fact that it is connected to the World Cup captured the attention of many football lovers across the globe. The film is well done and involved big shots at its development such as; BBC and the National Geographic Channel. All age groups could watch and enjoy the film.
It was successful to the extent that at the screenings, tickets were sold and theatres were filled to capacity. In my view, this is a very big achievement for Rwanda.
How did the film change the face of Africa?
There is something about expectation in films; when people hear about a film from Africa, they think about war, violence, famine and all the usual stereotypes of Africa. But if a film is different, it can change the way things are seen at anytime.
Kids in Africa have dreams of watching the world cup just like a kid in Texas or any other developed part of the world.
While in London, I noticed a huge difference between April and October. Every time people heard that I was from Rwanda, they exclaimed, ‘Africa United!’—that was the first reaction I received all the time. People said it was ‘a film with no edge!’ Right now, Africa United and Rwanda almost mean the same thing in film. Instead of asking about genocide and gorillas, people have started identifying with something else.
Africa United changed the expectation of films from Africa. What do you have to say about the critics of ‘Africa united’?
Even though there were very positive reviews internationally, most of the negative criticism came from our very own Kigali. There was an article published in The New Times that was written by Dr. Agnes Binagwaho who said, ‘Africa United does not show a positive image of Africa’, she looked at the film and analysed it scene by scene which resulted into a situation where everything seemed wrong. She cited issues surrounding poor parenting skills to irresponsible immigration officers and insecurity that portrayed a wrong image to children.
She carried truth in her statements but, as filmmakers we believe that kids are smart enough to differentiate between reality and fiction in a movie. Everyone knows that movies are fiction unless they are documentaries. We watch a lot of science-fiction and action-packed movies where actors steal aircrafts and fly them, they jump from skyscrapers without getting hurt and, we all know this is not real.
One thing we must understand is that we need entertainment in Kigali. We want to bring laughter, entertainment and fun to Rwanda through film and, Africa United has done that; it is the reality of Africa.
What other achievements has RCC registered?
For the first time in Rwanda, in 2010 young filmmakers made non-genocide films. One was the comedy, ‘Stressed’ and the horror, ‘Inside’—both short films that have gained considerable recognition. This shows that the country has changed and people are laughing, which means we need to make more films that show Rwanda as a new country where people are happy.
Additionally, in February, 30 young filmmakers were trained in collaboration with the Swedish Institute. The goal was to train participants who would make a film that would be screened to the general population during the Rwanda Film Festival.
Lastly, the Rwanda Film Festival (RFF) under the 2010 theme, ‘Africa Celebrated’ was a success. The best films made in Africa are selected such as ‘The White Wedding, Pumzi, Screaming Man, Soul Boy and ‘Kezarella’ (Kinyarwanda version of Cinderella). Kezarella is a feature film developed by Fionah a young filmmaker that was screened at Hillywood and won an award.
How about RCC’s success in terms of business?
2010 was a good year in terms of business. We do not want to rely on funding alone to run the centre. We only get funding for projects but have improvised by getting involved in income generating activities such as covering events to sustain the centre. Our average turnover that includes funding and revenue from income generating activities, is about $200,000.
What has soared in your filmmaking career?
As a filmmaker I have travelled around the world and I was nominated the World Ambassador of Film Without Borders. This is a new project introduced by the Royal Family in United Kingdom and headed by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The purpose of Film Without Borders is to involve children around the world in film making. The pilot countries in the project are Rwanda, Palestine and Israel. I was selected as the World Ambassador to advocate for the project. We have been doing a lot of fundraising for kids to make films and I have met big stars like the former 007: James Bond stars who are willing to help.
I also met one of the most respected filmmakers in the film industry—George Lucas who has been there since the 70’s—he is the maker of the Star Wars trilogy and Indiana Jones. In an exclusive interview on CNN, I was among other young filmmakers who interacted with him live on air.
What was George Lucas’ perception of film in Rwanda?
I asked him what chance young filmmakers had in a competitive film industry since many have schooled in the best film academies and universities but are still blocked by a huge barrier that keeps them from entering the industry.
George Lucas said something that has stuck in my mind to this day.
He said that, ‘you are in a very good position because you are from Rwanda where everything has just started. Unlike in America where thousands of filmmakers exist and films have been made for decades. There are no new stories to tell because there are only 32 ways of making a story and all the stories have been told.’
Because I live in a country where things have just started, he said, ‘we can make films unique in our own way, since you are one of the pioneers of the film industry.’
As a result I am making my own film called, ‘Return Ticket’—a short story about why several foreigners visiting the country stay behind. It will be ready in a couple of weeks.
What is your view about Copyrights and Pirating?
There are measures to protect films and music against piracy in Rwanda. Initiatives such as the Iriza Carte and the Rwanda Society of Authors under the Ministry of Commerce and Trade have ensured this. However, it should be noted that piracy is not just a Rwandan issue but a world problem. We cannot rely on movie sales alone in Rwanda but what would beat pirating is if, hundreds of thousands of films are manufactured and sold at a lower price than that of blank DVD’s.
What are RCC’s prospects for 2011?
Firstly, we intend to consolidate all our efforts over the last five years. By creating a framework under which we can operate, then training filmmakers will become more consistent every six months. Secondly, membership affiliated to the Rwanda Cinema Centre will be created so that we include the over 150 young Rwandans and international partners involved in Rwanda’s film industry.