Friday, May 25, 2007

BACK HOME - By Rwandan Film Maker, J.B. Rutagarama

You know what they say, if you think there is nothing cultural or new to do in Jozi, you aren’t looking well enough.

Last night I met a Rwandan man. He must be about 30 by now. That means he was 17 years old when he had to escape from his country before he was slaughtered for being too tall. Too tall meant he was a Tutsi.

Luckily for him, “luckily” used very relatively here, his dad was a Hutu. Who did defend this son he despised, as his son reminded the father of his previous marriage to a Tutsi woman. At the border of Rwanda and the Congo, Jean Bernard and his older brother were dropped off by their dad to cross the border. He never saw his dad or sister again.

He and his brother started to help the foreign journalists who were filming the devastation. Let alone the genocide taking place between that nation’s borders was the chaos, infection, and inhabitable living conditions of the refugee “camps” that were growing on the other side of the border.

His connection to these journalists is what would save him and lead him to now being an up-and-coming filmmaker in the States. His brother put him on a plane to London, where he tracked the journalists down, who “adopted” him and cared and educated him.

We watched his film on Constitutional Hill last night. Yes, right there next to Hillbrow. At night. I’ve gone there for a few events, in the dark. It is easy and safe to get to from Parktown, and there is safe parking. But between the location and the current cold, such events are never going to be well attended.

Over the tea, me and some other guy got to joke with Jean Bernard about his now-American accent. We tried to convince him that this weather is not normal for SA at this time of year. And he told us about how bright lighted he had first found London when he arrived, and he had thought, what a waste of electricity.

In his film, he returns to Rwanda. To start grieving. Start working through it all. To maybe find his mom, brother, any survivors he might know. He does find his mom, and an aunt. They explain to him what they saw, experienced, how they escaped from slaughter, by seconds. Afterwards, he tells us that his aunt was not willing to tell the cameras the majority of her story from 1994. He speaks to people who were part of the mob. To a Hutu man that saved hundreds of Tutsi friends by driving them to that famous hotel for protection… where they were safe up until the UN inexplicably & unforgivably had to pull out and leave the hotel open to the Hutu murdering mob.

He shows the audience how the country is trying to heal, through traditional courts and such. That the perpetrators who have come forward to confess and request forgiveness are now building houses for the victims. Active repentance.

He finds out his brother is dead. But how screwed up is this. His brother made it to the border with him, across the border, became a translator for the foreign journos and dealt with the most horrendous stories and scenes of death and evil. His brother saved younger JB by putting JB on a plane. Then his brother goes back into Rwanda to find their mom. AND HE DOES!! He finds their mom. And the genocide ends!! He survives it all. And then, shortly after the genocide, he contracts malaria and dies from the preventable disease.

Could you get more screwed up than that? Could Africa be a harsher place?

Jean Bernard’s objective of this film is to reach into the minds of future leaders and plant this memory. Of course genocides will happen again. We are not learning or changing (Darfur). But what he is hoping for, is that the next time the warning signs start to show, one decision maker will recall this story, and ensure that people with the relevant power step in and do their best to avert it.

He is trying to put humanity into the memory of genocide. Perhaps?

I am not one for telling the whole story of a film. I hate even reading reviews as they give away even a hint of what the story will contain. But I am writing down this story as I think that most people will never see this film. It is not a money-making story apparently. So he has been told. Deuce Bigalo doing The Netherlands is. And so one you will be able to watch every night on DSTV. The other is struggling to even get an American distribution company to put it onto dvds.

Funny that. “Funny” being used in a relative sense of the word.

(He says that he will take and show his film to anyone that is interested. Perhaps funding might be an issue. But if you are interested, try to get in touch with the US Consulate or the Southern Africa Communications for Development who are hosting this AFI 20/20 event).

(If you are interested, a second such film, by a USA filmmaker is on tonight, be at the Old Fort Conference Room by 6pm, attendance is free).


Koekie said...

Wow, what an incredible person to meet. Amazing story. Was the movie really good - in a cinematic sense, or was it a tug-at-the-heart-strings movie?

Champagne Heathen said...

It was a good movie. Doccie style. Had elements of heart-string-tugging but not too many.
Unfortunately a certain airline had misplaced his bags over to here, so the final one with proper sound was lost in airport red tape, so we watched on where the sound cuts weren't perfect, but it wasn't too much of a worry.

Anonymous said...

borders and money and water and power man...

Where's Tank Girl when you need her?

Mr Memetic said...


She wanted to come, but she was caught up in Aussie Land, about 200 years from now.

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in Rwanda, you should read:

1. French, Howard W. (2004) A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa. Vintage Books, New York.

2. Meredith, M. (2005) The State of Africa. A History of Fifty Years of Independence.

Both Hutus and Tutsi's have been guilty of genocide. See also the entries under Rwanda on Figtree, which has other links.

Champagne Heathen said...

Thegodowner & Anton - you sew together the outfit, and I'm willing to take on her job till she actually is conceived and arrives!

Thanks Inyoka!! I always lve your book suggestions. I am actually reading The State Of Africa now...just slooooowly.

Unknown said...

The world is tilting, and somethings gotta give.

I'd love all the people of Africa to see this movie and others like it, and to see what we are allowing to happen to Africa - instead of watching movies about how great it is in America! Knowledge is power, but its not commercially viable.

Champagne Heathen said...

Ah yes...the joys of Capitalism! Aren't we so lucky it won the ideological war!

Friends of Rwandan Rugby said...

how can I get to see this movie?

Champagne Heathen said...

I am not completely certain, but the screening of the film was hosted by the US Consulate in Johannesburg & the Southern Africa Communications for Development, for the "AFI 20/20 event". The best would probably be to get in contact with them.

Phone the US consulate and ask for someone working in their cultural section??