Interview with a Filmmaker on the Rise

Kivu Ruhorahoza is a young gifted filmmaker who delivers stirring, haunting images even with the lowest of budgets. His last film, Confession, was made for only $350. The short was scheduled to play at the Africala Film Festival here in Mexico City, but its run was cut due to swine flu hysteria. As a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he brings a fresh sensibility to his films that are unavoidably tinged with the story of Rwanda’s past. But the charismatic director still has fun with his work, too.

Here Daddy talks about his current work, his creative process and his artistic aspirations.

Tell us about the film, Confession, that was scheduled to play at the Africala Film Festival.

Confession is a 15-minute film about the theme of forgiveness. In my film, I ask: Who should the criminal ask forgiveness to? My main character in the movie feels that he did something wrong. And he knows that what he did got even worse because of a context of war and Genocide. Because he is a Catholic, he goes to a confessional. In my country where over 80% were Catholic before the Genocide, I think there must be some people at least who, instead of admitting their crimes in courts, went to confessionals to be in peace with themselves. For me, that is cowardice. But it is a confirmation to me that every criminal has some humanity left in himself. I am absolutely convinced that every criminal thinks he/she owes something to the victim and humanity in general. That is why I made my character go ask for forgiveness, writing on toilet walls. But I insist that I don’t have sympathy for rapists…

Watch him talk about Confession:

Do you find that a lot of your work has dealt with the aftermath of the genocide? What is it like to try to mix creativity in the form of film with such a horrific reality? Do people in Rwanda support your work and generally want to be involved with it, in terms of acting, producing, etc.?

The Tutsi Genocide became a reference point for every Rwandan. Even in popular language in Rwanda, people say “before or after” the war. War meaning the Genocide. Things were never the same after the Genocide. For the survivors, the perpetrators and their families and the soldiers who fought the war.

Even if I make a comedy about sexual behaviors in Kigali, the Genocide would be in the background because of how much it changed every Rwandan. There are life changing experiences for individuals like the loss of someone, a marriage, etc. But for a population, a genocide is absolutely a mark in the destiny of a population. From August 1994, people started realizing what had happened. They started digesting their anger, sorrow, disbelief. If the Genocide becomes the main source of my inspiration I would be losing the battle of survival because the first thing to do is to survive. To move on.

It is definitely hard to do any creative work on such an important topic. I don’t think that creativity has to rhyme with sincerity. Being creative is also about distorting realities, looking at things from a different point of view that is not necessary. I try as much as I can to avoid getting artistic satisfaction or success from other people’s pain. But it is obviously impossible and that is why I don’t think that I will ever be in peace with myself doing what I chose to do: film.

Many Rwandans are interested in my work. Some of them would be very happy to support me but let’s face it there are so many priorities other than making a film. Even those who have the means to support me have tens of cousins, aunts, brothers who cannot even afford to buy aspirin… But luckily, I’m moving towards a more professional kind of environment. Young aspiring film professionals have so far been very nice to me. They seem to like my experimental approach to my filmmaking and it is a good sign that people are open to other ways of expression.

While in the Rwandan capital Kigali, I was struck by how many artists, musicians and writers I met. Do you think the arts scene there is growing more than ever and helping to foster a supportive environment for filmmaking?

Unfortunately, I don’t think so! In a country where there are no formal training facilities, you can only learn by watching. But in Rwanda we have one TV channel and not a single proper cinema. There are definitely tens of video clubs where you can watch the last blockbuster but I don’t think you can learn from watching Quantum of Solace. Access to good art can motivate the aspiring artists in Rwanda. But we don’t even have a single public library or a proper music venue in Kigali. All the good intentions in the world cannot replace formal training or access to good arts.

So, we still have a long way to go. But I should acknowledge the efforts of the Rwanda Cinema Centre who organize trainings and a film festival where Rwandans can watch other type of films rather than Hollywood, Hong Kong and Bollywood movies. The Ministry of Culture also is making efforts to have a film commission in place.

We are at a beginning of something and that is positive.

Can you tell us about how you got started in filmmaking and the types of films you have done? What places and subjects have interested you most?

I started as a production assistant, sort of runner who was doing everything that I was asked to do in the office of Rwandan producer Eric Kabera. That was early 2004. Then I went on quickly to become production manager on some of his documentaries and I started writing a lot. I have always wanted to become a writer and I saw some movies that made me decide that filmmaking was what I wanted to do. One of them is L’Ennui by French filmmaker Cédric Kahn.

I have been doing different kind of films. I am only working on my first feature now but I made some shorts about redemption and forgiveness, sexual freedom, creativity and madness, musical documentary, living in a poor country when you are not, … In my opinion, anything can be a subject for a movie. I don’t think I will ever make a film to educate, inform or sensitize. I’m not in a mission. For me, filmmaking is a selfish thing. I do what I like and what I want. Every script starts with a note in a diary or any other piece of paper. So, every script for me starts from something that is related to my mood, feeling, etc. That is why I think that I can work on any subject as long as it is appealing to me.

You sometimes act in your own films, such as in Lost in the South. How do you bridge the balance between directing and performing on the same project?

Each time I’ve done it is because I couldn’t find an actor! I’m not a big fan of acting in my films but I don’t have much choice sometimes. I lose a bit of control when I’m trying to be on both sides of the camera. I prefer being behind the camera and directing.

Photo via The Mail & Guardian

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