Stars, Lights & Fame: Pierre Kayitana speaks about Rwanda’s Film industry

It is one year since PIERRE L. KAYITANA became an ambassador for “Film Without Borders”—a project that aims at raising a generation of filmmakers by training 15 to 18 year-olds in this sector. The Film’s senior Producer is among a team of emissaries from the three countries chosen to pilot the project; Rwanda, Israel and Palestine.
(L-R) Film Makers Ismail Al Qaisi,Pierre Kayitana and Omri Bezalel with Christina Astrade attend a Film Without Borders event during 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival at on May 18, 2011 in Cannes, France.
(L-R) Film Makers Ismail Al Qaisi,Pierre Kayitana and Omri Bezalel with Christina Astrade attend a Film Without Borders event during 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival at on May 18, 2011 in Cannes, France.

It is one year since PIERRE L. KAYITANA became an ambassador for “Film Without Borders”—a project that aims at raising a generation of filmmakers by training 15 to 18 year-olds in this sector.

The Film’s senior Producer is among a team of emissaries from the three countries chosen to pilot the project; Rwanda, Israel and Palestine.

Kayitana takes us through an epic journey around the globe, to places he calls his classrooms; from Live television interviews with famous celebrities, major film festivals, film offices, across to Windsor Castle at banquets with a prince of this world and, to Red Carpet events with blinding paparazzi flashes.

He learns from all these places to bring back to Rwanda, a country with a promising film industry. The New Times (TNT) shares his story.

 

TNT: What inspired the creation of Film Without Borders?

PK: Last year in April, I met George Lucas, a Film Producer, to try and create a situation where there were no more borders between great established filmindustry people and young filmmakers like myself.

My interview with George Lucas was shown on CNN Screening Room Show and at the Cannes Film Festival in France—the top Film Festival in the world. Cannes is a city that holds 10 festivals throughout the year.

This year in May, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Film Without Borders (FWB).  On Sunday 8th May, 2011, I met Whoopi Goldberg in a 30-minute open conversation to discuss the need to create actors in our countries.

In an inspiring and educative interview, she had a lot of great ideas of what could be done given the fewer numbers of African actresses/actors in the industry. She cited the need to create more: More African children want to become actors but many parents do not consider film as a serious profession because it falls under the entertainment business, if the chocolate actors have made it, why not our children?

Whoopi insisted that she be invited to Rwanda to train young actors. If someone calls you, then they recognize your talent, she said.

I understood that, if a talent is recognized, other upcoming actors across the globe will also feel privileged to come and train the actors in Rwanda.

Right now FWB is getting people enthusiastic about the project. It is a charity organization that solely relies on funding to cover costs of training, mentors, logistics and equipment.

Since this project is upscale and we are learning from the top, we also want the kids to learn from the top.

TNT: What is your feeling as a Rwandan Filmmaker?

PK: I think I have been very lucky in my life as a person. Since my first job, I have always had the top position in everything I have worked for in Rwanda and internationally. I’ve worked for Nokia Pangea Day, Tribeca Film Festival, with Alicia Key’s organization, Aljazeera English, and then CNN’s Christiane Amanpour among others.

When you are at the top, all the opportunities come first to you just like the French saying; “After the rain, the water goes back to the river,” or ” Money goes back to the rich.” Since I was 16 years I have worked in top places and this has pushed me to always be remarkable in whatever I do.

This however comes with a lot of pain and responsibilities but it pays off.

Meeting celebrities is always exciting; it’s a unique experience that doesn’t come by all the time. It is hugely appreciated because the Film industry is a much closed network where accessing producers is quite impossible.

There are people with the job of making sure that no one meets or talks to them.

When you talk to celebrities, you learn something you would otherwise spend several years learning. You keep what they say because they have years of experience.

For example; when I met George Lucas (Producer of Indiana Jones) he said it was almost impossible for him to meet a producer in the 60’s but he is the only successful producer who did not go to Hollywood.

He said the opportunities in Rwanda are like gold, because no one has tapped them. 

When celebrities talk about these things, you go back and think; these are lifetime lessons, its more than education or film school.

TNT: What went on at your visit at the Winsor Castle?

PK: On Monday 9th May, I was at Windsor Castle, the Queen of England’s official residence, to attend the retrospective of Whoopi Goldberg hosted by Prince Edward. It was another learning experience where she emphasized on the need to be you, in order to become successful.

I also spoke to guests about the need for FWB in Rwanda. Since it was towards the end of the 100 days of commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, I spoke about the impact of film in remembering the past in order for community healing to happen.

The issue is that we have got a generation of young people like ourselves who have seen and experienced too much , too soon.

There are so many young people who want to tell their stories but do not have the equipment to do so. We all need films which are very powerful tools in influencing people’s minds.

TNT: You mentioned Scotland, the world’s cultural destination; how can Rwanda transform Her cities to become Africa’s cultural destination?

PK: I was invited by the Honorary High Commissioner of Rwanda in Scotland, who wants to create a marriage between Rwanda and Scotland in terms of culture focusing on film and dance.

 Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is a city of culture. I wanted to see how we can transform our cities to become cultural attractions for the world.

Scotland’s government annually distributes more than 60 million pounds in its budget for culture development. Under the umbrella of Creative Scotland, the government organizes the country’s cultural stakeholders and funds their activities.

As a result, culture is one of the biggest revenue sources for Scotland. Creative Scotland propels the Arts industry to become competitive and professional.

This is something we do not have well established here and this is very possible in Rwanda because it is much needed. African artists need to communicate and work together with the government if they want to be successful.

We need to transform our cities; Kigali is still the saddest city in East Africa! Entertainment is part of life and we need to have options for entertainment.

With all the construction and development happening around us,  we are attracting investments but we also need people to spend money in order to maintain that investment. This way we can build our economy and also create a great and modern culture.

TNT: Don’t you think that Art Schools in Rwanda are essential for a booming entertainment industry?

PK: Yes they are very important but first, we need to create a demand for art. Rwanda can learn from the USA where we are right now in Film is where the US was in the 1920’s.

It was not until the State Department decided to allocate a budget for film that the industry begun to boom.

They realized how powerful this industry is and today, the Film industry in the USA is the top source of revenue for the country.

We have to create a demand for art in the country. Rwandans need a variety of entertainment; we go to the same places, pubs, meet the same people, same music, same Dj’s because there is nothing new.

However, if this sector is funded by the government for a couple of years then more shows, theatre and concerts will be held every other day; and when people start to ask for the next venue for a show, that is when demand is created.

At this point more Art Schools will easily sprout to produce artists and entertainers to meet the demand.

On a brighter side, the Rwanda Film Institute is opening this year in September, and there is great support from the government since it falls under vocational training.

Rwandans are traditionally storytellers since the days of the kings. There are a million stories to tell because everyone has a story that needs to be told and the world needs to know about Rwanda as a country and what is happening.

TNT: You travelled to France and attended the Cannes Film Festival. What was the purpose of this visit?

PK: Every Filmmaker in the world dreams to go to Cannes. It’s the highest and topmost film festival in the world. Cannes is a small city next to Nice; it’s a city of festivals all year round.

Everything is booked all year round. That is where all people meet to buy from those offering opportunities, whether it is in film, commercial business, publicity, real estate, ICT and more…it’s a place of opportunity.

Together with David Morris, of the London Jeweler, we fundraised for Film Without Borders. We raised an impressive amount of money to support the creation of a whole generation of filmmakers, actors and actresses.

TNT: What was exciting about Cannes?

PK: The Red Carpet Night on May 18th was thrilling. I saw several celebrities appear with all eyes on them; with coverage from several televisions and over 600 photographers—the flashlights turned night into day—it was really a beautiful night. I believe we can turn Rwanda’s industry to this.

TNT: After tasting fame, aren’t you tempted to remain there, why come? Many wouldn’t wish to return to Africa after they get a glimpse of the world outside.

PK: There is something I love about Kigali, I don’t know what it is but I love coming back home. There is something about the Rwandan leadership promoting ‘Agaciro’; this word has no exact description in English and it means a lot.

This ‘Agaciro’ thing makes me come back to Rwanda all the time. I feel a responsibility about my country and that is why I come back every time. When I am in London, Paris, Los Angeles or New York, everything is complicated; yet Kigali is so simple and we have such an easy life.

However, we need to learn to move fast like the developed world, we do not have to do things last minute all the time. As we develop we learn to plan for things in advance because it is less time consuming and saves money at the same time.
 
TNT: What is cooking for the Rwanda Film Festival?

PK: A lot of great films are in store for this season. Already some of the best African Films have been selected by the French Cultural Centre; some of which include Rwanda’s successful films this year; ‘Kinyarwanda’, ‘Grey Matter’ and ‘Africa United’. A good festival is about great films that are screened on time.

TNT: What was your biggest lesson after this trip?

PK: Meeting Whoopi Goldberg has changed the way I look at things in the Film Industry. I have learnt that it is very important in this sector to be happy, to try to tell the truth all the time, not to compromise yourself a lot and getting the shock of what we do as filmmakers.

Keeping a connection with other crew is equally important. And hopefully, I will continue to learn in a very fun way about the things that I would otherwise spend 10 to 30 years learning in film school.

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