Rwandan filmmaker debuts at Tribeca

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — A Rwandan helmer will bow his first feature in Tribeca’s World Narrative Features competition, shining a spotlight on the continuing evolution of film in the small East African nation.

Kivu Ruhorahoza’s “Grey Matter” is a cerebral, surreal portrait of a young filmmaker struggling to lens his first pic in a country recently torn apart by war.

When funding falls through for Balthazar, the fictional helmer, he decides to push ahead without telling his crew.

As the pic unfolds, it becomes unclear if he’s succeeded in shooting his film, about two young survivors and a madman secluded in a mental hospital, or if it’s all in his imagination.

Ruhorahoza, whose arthouse shorts have already traveled the festival circuit, sees the film as a meditation on “imagination and madness.”

The parallels between the struggles of the fictional Balthazar and Ruhorahoza himself are, not surprisingly, strong. During pre-production Ruhorahoza battled to find coin for a project that, he realized, didn’t conform to “the positive, message-driven stereotypes of government funding agencies.”

He appealed to friends for small loans during the early stages of filming before linking up with the Melbourne-based production company Scarab Studio Films.

Despite his success in making his film, Ruhorahoza is discouraged by the funding climate for Rwandan filmmakers, saying that the struggles for him and other young helmers show that those in charge of culture have not done their jobs yet.

“Some will pretend that there are way too many priorities … in a country that is still a work-in-progress,” he says. “But I’m sure it is a matter of political will.”

Ruhorahoza says Rwandans must come together to boost the growing industry. “There are lots of young, aspiring filmmakers trying to do things in their little corners,” he says. “They don’t meet, they don’t share ideas, they don’t cooperate.” For Rwandan filmmakers to gain a bigger voice on the global stage, he says, they must “build a film industry that has its roots in creativity.”

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