Art imitates life until the line between them blurs in “Europa, ‘Based on a True Story,’” Rwandan director Kivu Ruhorahoza’s provocative portrayal of a love affair gone bad that mirrors the growing social and racial tensions in Great Britain and Europe. Produced by Anthony Rui Ribeiro for Moon Road Films and co-produced by Cocoon Production, with MaryEllen Higgins executive producing, the film world premieres in competition at IDFA on Nov. 27.
After his first two fiction features earned critical plaudits and A-list festival premieres, Ruhorahoza (“Grey Matter,” “Things of the Aimless Wanderer”) took up residence in the U.K. to shoot his new movie, “A Tree Has Fallen,” which was intended to be a drama about a mysterious Nigerian man who returns to London to settle the fallout from a messy love triangle.
Little did the director know that British politics and life in the U.K. were about to get even messier. “My initial plan was to make a drama about a classic ghost who comes back to London to make amends with people from his past. And progressively, I would have introduced the viewers to the socio-political context that made this man become a ghost in the first place,” said Ruhorahoza. “And then Brexit happened and the Brits lost their mind.”
After the 2016 decision by British voters to leave the European Union, the political climate in the U.K. shifted. The ruling Conservative Party’s “hostile environment” immigration policy was stepped up with a set of administrative and legislative measures designed to make it as difficult as possible for migrants to remain in the U.K., “pushing hundreds of thousands of individuals into extreme emotional distress, destroying careers and families,” said Ruhorahoza. “It became obvious that I had to invite reality into [the film’s] fictional world, which was itself based on several real-life stories.”
In the process, the director set about examining some of the structural and systemic biases that have long privileged European filmmakers over their African counterparts. “With this film, I try a role reversal, going uninvited to a European city in crisis, doing some loosely anthropological work and creating a cinema that places my ‘African’ concerns front and center,” said Ruhorahoza, citing examples of European filmmakers working in Africa, such as “Tabu,” by Miguel Gomes, “The White Masai,” by Hermine Huntgeburth, and “White Material,” by Claire Denis.
It is more than just a theoretical exercise for Ruhorahoza, who noted that for African filmmakers who aren’t dual nationals, “it is practically impossible to make a film in the West.”
He continued: “In making this film, I was hoping to expand the debates about content, style, form and funding of African films. What is an African film, where does it have to be produced, and what realities does it have to tackle to qualify as an African film?”