Runesmith's Canadian Content: EbertFest Dispatch #2: Kinyarwanda

Kinyarwanda is different from any film you’ve seen about the Rwandan genocide. It starts not with bloodshed, but with a kiss.

Rwanda has pervaded our consciousness in Canada more so than elsewhere perhaps because of the role played by Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire and his subsequent humanitarian and advocacy work. But this is not his story. Nor is it the story of the other U.N. peacekeepers, or of the Hotel Rwanda.

These are the very personal stories of ordinary Rwandans, from both sides of the conflict.

That last bit is vital. As the director put it, he didn’t want to make another film about heroes and villains because to truly understand and prevent such a thing in the future, you must first understand and humanize – and ultimately forgive – those who committed the atrocities.

This isn’t a concept that we in the West are terribly comfortable with, but it’s a lesson that needs to be learned. They have learned it well in South Africa, and are making great strides towards healing in Rwanda. The film shows that reconciliation process early on, before you see what these men actually did.

It’s a neat trick of time manipulation that the writer uses deftly, together with interweaving story lines and the gradual revelation of relationships between the characters. It’s a complex masterpiece of storytelling that drives home our understanding that these are all one people. They all suffered. They all have to live with the consequences. And they can only do it together.

One of the most moving scenes for me was at the mosque where the Imam has taken in anyone seeking asylum – Tutsi and Hutu, Muslim and Christian alike. A Catholic Tutsi priest, who was initially resistant to associating with either Hutus or Muslims, is leading Mass on one side of the worship space, while on the other, separated by the thinnest barrier, the Imam leads the Muslim prayer service.

The chants of Allahu Akbar and the Lord’s Prayer are heard in counterpoint, like a canon, as the camera pans from one side to the other. Different, but completely harmonious.

During the Q&A, the director revealed that the film was shot in 16 days on a budget of $250,000, much of which came from film grants from Rwanda. Incredible. After that, I never want to hear the excuse that a filmmaker didn’t have enough time or money to make a great film.

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