Sawhney docu shows local filmmakers' struggles

As Rwanda’s sixth annual film fest winds down on July 28, a new docu looks at the country’s emerging film culture from behind the lenses of two of its rising stars.

“Rwanda: Take Two,” by the American journalist and documentarian Pia Sawhney, follows the filmmakers Edouard Bamporiki and Yves Montand Niyongabo for several months as they negotiate the challenges of working in a country whose film industry is still in its infant stages.

Sawhney says the pic was both a portrait of the two filmmakers at work, and a tribute to the strength and spirit of ordinary Rwandans.

“The country has made remarkable progress over the past 16 years,” she says.

The east African nation is still rebuilding, 16 years after a genocide that claimed some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. In recent years, it has become a model of stability and development, spurred by an improbable reconciliation process that has seen Tutsis and Hutus living side by side.

Sawhney says it was this spirit — and a desire to “find new histories to tell” — that compelled her to tell the stories of Bamporiki and Niyongabo.

“The films Yves and Edouard create are proving important in bridging the ethnic divide that still exists in Rwanda,” she says. Sawhney says the work of Rwanda’s young filmmakers was proof that “despite great odds, Rwandans have grand ambitions about what they will achieve.”

Throughout “Rwanda: Take Two,” those ambitions are keenly balanced against the struggles of life in post-genocide Rwanda. As Bamporiki tours the country, screening his feature debut “Long Coat” to young audiences, he grapples with the painful memories left behind by the genocide. Niyongabo finds that professional success and failure are often intertwined.

Rwanda’s nascent film industry is suffering growing pains. Niyongabo dubs film a “new and growing art” for Rwandans, adding that the lack of a well-developed industry remains the greatest challenge for his peers.

“(We) face many obstacles, such as the lack of sufficient funding” he says. “This is the main problem I think all the filmmakers in Rwanda face.”

“Rwanda: Take Two” was funded by the Rotterdam Film Festival. It was co-produced by Korean-American director Lee Isaac Chung’s shingle Almond Tree Films Rwanda and bowed in Rotterdam in January; it made its Rwandan bow this month.

Niyongabo’s first film has been traveling the festival circuit this year. He is working on a docu funded by the Danish Film Institute’s CPH: DOX film lab, and is traveling to China in August as part of Rotterdam’s Raiding Africa program. Bamporiki is working on a documentary in Rwanda.

Sawhney says she has received interest from distribs, but will continue to screen “Rwanda: Take Two” at festivals with an eye toward expanding its length for broadcasters.

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