Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Movies and Videos about Rwanda

As part of my travel preparations, I viewed a number of movies and videos (some of which I saw when they were released because I had a long-standing interest in the country).  Rwanda is so fascinating a country, with such a difficult history, and miraculous recovery, that the more you know and understand the more you will get out of your trip.

1.  Hotel Rwanda.  This is a great movie, and I love Don Cheadle who is the star.  The violence of the genocide is not so much shown directly as implied.  There are many moving parts to the film, and I still think it is a reasonable, Hollywood-style account.  Note however that the character who is central to the film and played by Cheadle is now a controversial expatriate, given that he largely advocates the "double genocide" myth as opposed to the genocide against the Tutsis and mass killing of Hutu moderates and the terrible refugee crisis of the fleeing Hutus. 

2.  Frontline:  Ghosts of Rwanda.  This is a fabulous documentary that I think is essential.  It is virtually flawless in my opinion (there's one sentence that struck me as "off" in the whole production).  It  provides an excellent overview of the political context and worldwide failure in response. 

3.  Beyond the Gates (aka Shooting Dogs).  This is also a genocide film.  I think it is worthwhile but not essential and is based on factual accounts.  The terribly moving moment (spoiler alert) is when the Belgian soldiers are begged to shoot the children under their protection rather than allowing them to be hacked or clubbed to death when the Belgians withdraw.  John Hurt is good as always.  Not a great film, but worthwhile to see, especially to see the enumeration of the Tutsi and similar preparatory efforts.

4.  Sometimes in April.  Widely regarded as the best film about the genocide, though I might disagree (I think this view is a reflection of the controversial stature of the manager from Hotel Rwanda).  This was filmed in Rwanda using many locals as actors, which gives it a particular poignance.  This is a bit more directly graphic than is Hotel Rwanda.  The actor Idris Elba (whom you may know from The Wire) gives a wonderful performance.  It is directed by Raoul Peck, who is Haitian. 

5.  Nature:  The Gorilla King.  If you are going to the gorillas, then you should watch this.  It is an excellent account of devlopment of the gorilla preservation efforts and helps you understand the dynamics of gorilla groups.  I thought this was wonderfully done.

6.  Gorillas in the Mist.  Ok, Dian Fossey is genuinely responsible for many of the conservation efforts of the gorillas in Rwanda.  That said, I think this movie is not very good; Fossey is not the most empathetic character.  The movie is somewhat a necessary touchstone, since people know of the movie.  But if you had to choose to watch only one gorilla film, watch the Gorilla King. 

7.  History Channel:  Rwanda -- Do Scars Ever Fade?  This is a pretty good account and focuses especially on the mind-boggling challenge of having to live next-door to a genocidaire. 

8.  As We Forgive.  This is a bit too treacly for me.  It focuses on efforts to foster reconciliation and healing, but it is worthwhile in that its focus is so much on gaccaca (the community based court system that recently closed down in June 2012) and helps you focus on the concrete challenge of living with neighbors. 

9.  Rwanda:  Hope Rises.  Not really a necessary film, and a bit light-weight I thought. 

10.  Sweet Dreams.  This documentary is about a woman's collective that formed a drumming group and that started an ice cream shop in Butare.  I liked the movie, and I had a chance to visit the ice cream store, where I met several of the employees who were excited that I had seen the movie!

11.  Shake Hands with the Devil:  There are both a documentary and a bio-pic of Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the head of UNAMIR forces during 1993-1994.  The documentary in particular is great, but both versions give important perspective on the genocide against the Tutsis.

12.  A wonderful film I just watched is Earth Made of Glass. This provides keen insight into the human emotional dynamic in post-genocide Rwanda. It pairs interviews with H.E. President Paul Kagame and one man's story to look for what happened to his family. The film is so understated and touching. It is the best treatment of post-genocide reconstruction in film. It is a documentary, and the landscape and personal interactions are really true to Rwanda today. I think you should see one or more of the "Hollywood" type movies, before seeing this, the real thing. It is a wonderful film.
13.  Other movies that you might look for but that I haven't seen:  100 Days; A Sunday [at the Pool] in Kigali; The Overwhelming; Munyurangabo; The Day God Walked Away; Kinyarwanda; A Generation after Genocide; Keepers of Memory: Umurage; Flowers of Rwanda; Intended Consequences; Flower in the Gun Barrel; My Neighbor My Killer; Gacaca Living Together in Rwanda; In Rwanda We Say; The Notebooks of Memory; Screamers;  L'Afrique en morceaux. And a TED presentation.

In the above list, I think you can confidently skip Gorillas in the Mist and As We Forgive (with due respect to the filmakers and casts of both).  Beyond the Gates is not as important as seeing both Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April.  While the History Channel's documentary is not as essential as is the Frontline one, both are worthwhile, but the Frontline Ghosts of Rwanda is essential.

If you can only see two of these, my votes go to Ghosts of Rwanda and The Gorilla King. 
Probably the next two to see would be Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April, followed by Earth Made of Glass. Put somewhat differently, without Earth Made of Glass, the Hotel Rwanda and, even, Sometimes in April, are complemented necessarily by Earth Made of Glass.

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