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Kinyarwanda: Genocide Light

Kinyarwanda, Written and Directed by Alrick Brown

The 1994 Rwandan genocide, where over 1 million people were brutally slain in just over 100 days is a stark and gritty example of the darkest part of humanity: our ability to kill each other over perceived and often meaningless differences. The Rwandan genocide also speaks to another dark side of human nature as for so many days the rest of the world turned its back on the atrocity, because after all it was only Africans killing each other, not a real tragedy.

Terry George's Hotel Rwanda (starring Don Cheadle) and Raoul Peck's Sometimes in April (starring Idris Elba) are two of the most famed tellings of the genocide and these two films have helped to shine some light on the events that took place. In many ways, however, Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April tell the same story, just from slightly different perspectives. Sometimes in April actually often seems to be occurring just a few days after the events depicted Hotel Rwanda.

Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda presents an interesting addition to the stories about the genocide that reach this side of the world.  The film was recently screened at Redbones the Blues Cafe as the pre-event for the 2012 Calabash International Literary Festival, May 25 - 27 in Treasure Beach St. Elizabeth. In her brief statement to the audience, Programming Director of the festival Justine Henzell explained that Kinyarwanda was included in the Calabash 2012 line-up because it is  a great story and the festival is committed to great stories in any form.

The film proved worthy of the inclusion.

Kinyarwanda provides a very sensitive telling from a perspective that dramatically differs from both Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April. In many ways, Kinyarwanda could be perceived as genocide light. It has none of the attrocities that are at the heart of the other films. Indeed, there is very little violence. Like Sometimes in April, Kinyarwanda presents a view of the Rwandan society beyond the genocide. But due to the multiple perspective used in the latter film, Kinyarwanda provides greater diversity. Additionally, the story also surrounds the way Muslims and Christians came together as a Muslim leader issued a fatwa forbidding participation in the slaughter and making mosques places of rescue while churches had become slaughter houses.

Kinyarwanda is built around a series of intersecting short stories. The emotional depth is also strengthened by the non-linear telling. Interestingly, the story is enhanced by the circular plot. Its greatest kudos is that, without dwelling on the acts of atrocity, the film still manages to capture the horror of the genocide. It does this by focusing on the impact that the killings had on both victims and perpetrators.

Interestingly, the film manages to be bouyed by the absence of strong actors, as this seems to enrich the layered storytelling. As such, though I have grown wary (and a little weary) of the word authentic, Kinyarwanda wears its authenticity badge very well.

In the sole moment in which the filmmaker stepped up on a soapbox, the film also explains the politics behind the Rwandan genocide which is directly linked to the country’s colonial history where its people were divided into three groups, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa (most often referred to as Pygmies).  These names and the supposed identifying marks which go with them would mark the country for years, eventually being graffitied in blood on the land. As one of the characters said, “Even if [the names] mean nothing, they mean enough to get you killed.”

Yet, despite being a highly political film, it doesn't preach much. instead, Kinyarwanda makes its strongest political statement by starting with a love story as we watch a teenage couple go through the first bloom of love. amidst such an atrocity. This speaks to the amazing strength of the human spirit, and that is precisely what Kinyarwanda is about. The film points out, that while the Rwandan genocide may have been an example of humanity at its worst, the forgiveness, strength and hope which followed is humanity at its best.