The impact of Rwanda’s Hillywood in Africa’s communities

INTEGRATING the East African Community is exciting and timely. I enjoy discussing about movies and the impact it has on communities. Therefore sharing about the impact of Rwanda’s Film Industry and how it can become a model for the East African bloc is necessary.
A crowd in rural Rwanda waits anxiously to watch a film on one of Hillywoods inflatable screens. (File Photo).
A crowd in rural Rwanda waits anxiously to watch a film on one of Hillywoods inflatable screens. (File Photo).

INTEGRATING the East African Community is exciting and timely.

I enjoy discussing about movies and the impact it has on communities. Therefore sharing about the impact of Rwanda’s Film Industry and how it can become a model for the East African bloc is necessary.

The road network, no visas required at different borders, the free flow of people and goods and all the ideals of having one nation that brings us all together is of paramount importance if the East African people and communities are to become competitive on the world stage.

Imagine going to Australia or New Jersey and proclaiming that you are a citizen of Burundi, Uganda or Rwanda—very few people would really know what you are talking about. However, if you really want to address them in terms of a business perspective; you simply have to say that you come from East Africa.

That is what we need to communicate in movies, music, art and culture for us to have a common identity and a common vision across the globe.

I will not dwell on the impact of economic strategies as this has always been taken care of by our economists and business leaders.  However, I will expound on what I know best and been doing for the last 15 years—the media and film.

I have been involved in the media, working extensively with international crews and correspondents during the reporting process of the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. I have worked on this particular subject for years and I still do, because I still get calls from CNN, NBC, France2, CBC, NHK or any other media crew that wants to go to Burundi, come to Rwanda and see the economic recovery of these countries.

 We have helped people through covering the Gacaca Court trials, or several issues that have affected neighbouring Goma with its bustling activities following the two consecutive volcanic eruptions and told stories of a people that have witnessed atrocities that still haunt Eastern DR Congo.

Through this, I learned the trade of communication and eventually produced 100 days, the first feature film about the genocide with Nick Hughes. That is when I quickly realized that film has a huge potential to share a story from even distant places on the globe such as Rwanda.

After making 100 days, which has shown in over 100 Film Festivals around the world, it paved way for other films to be made on the subject such as; Sometimes in April, Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs to name but a few.

After understanding the power of film and seeing that most films that were being made in the country were produced by foreign production companies, I decided to set up an organization that trains young Rwandan filmmakers on basic techniques of making movies. With this, we set up an international film festival—Hillywood, with the support of several filmmakers on the continent and around the world who sent in their films.

The first fully fledged international film festival screened over 60 films from across the globe.
What is so unique in genre about our film festival is that it does travel in both the capital city, Kigali and the in the countryside of Rwanda with its thousand hills landscape, hence the name of Hillywood which means cinema in the hills.

Through using the inflatable cinema which is a blown up rubber screen, we take films made by our students and screen them to audiences of between five to ten thousand people who at times have never seen a film in their native language.

This exciting technology has worked well in Rwanda and in the East African region where there is limited access to electricity.
Communities have been educated through the inflatable cinemas where issues of a post conflict situation, social cohesion, reconciliation and some health messages are disseminated.

Each time we blow up the screen it creates a spectacle for kids and adults alike who are fascinated by the wealth of information and entertainment they receive. 
Consequently, several organisations and individuals associated with our cause have come on board.

A few years ago, we had a special invitation from Tribeca, a film festival that was co founded by Robert de Niro. We screened our student’s films at a gala event that was attended by President Paul Kagame, the former President of the United Stated, Bill Clinton, Andrew young and Pastor Rick Warren who were among the key speakers.

From these humble beginnings and encouragement, the Rwanda Film Institute—a film and TV school was set up in Rwanda to teach young men and women the techniques of filmmaking. Our first academic year starts in September 2011. 

A wide range of people and organizations will be involved at the school as visiting mentors such as; The Director of the world famous sitcom, Everybody loves Raymond, Mr. Phil Rosenthal and Monica Rosenthal the actress in the series, Jon Turtetaub, Director of National Treasure that features actor Nicolas Cage, the Oscar Winner Director Volker Schloindorff, Danny Glover and Nick Hughes among others.

Additionally, Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Sports and Culture, SIDA and BRD have partnered in the schools establishment which, started off as a training centre but is growing into a fully fledged respected Film School in East and Central Africa.

More emphasis should be put on the images and dissemination of our cross culture in the five EAC countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

Our regional and continent’s music, poetry, cinema and television can use a similar approach like that of Hillywood.
Additionally, 2012 will see the dissemination of a traveling African Film Festival where the visual language of other countries will be screened.

The African filmmakers associated in this project will expose more about the African continent, its cultures, struggles, opportunities and beauty.

Why do we have to watch movies about a village and a family in a Louisiana suburb or a Cologne detective movie on our TV’s instead of watching a village in Nyeri or Kabale, Kirundo, Butare or Chinyanga? Screening the life in our midst, would be the true EAC integration that our people need to see and aspire to embrace.

We are told that we will be given the East African passport and yet EAC citizens do not even know that there is a place called Nyanza in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. Therefore, with the Hillywood spirit, we can trademark East Africa to the rest of the world.

The author is the Producer of Africa United and the founder of the Rwanda Cinema Centre.
erickabera@yahoo.com
www.hillywood.org 

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