Interview with Rwandan filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza at Durban International Film Festival, July 2012 "Bringing the complexity and wisdom of Rwandan and African poetry into film"
What inspired the story of your first feature film?
The film consists of three parts. The first was inspired by my experience of trying to make two shorts: one about two siblings living with trauma, and the other explaining the conflict which caused the trauma. No one would give me money for the two shorts, which were considered to be too dark, were never made. The siblings' story is based on ordinary Rwandans' stories, including friends who lost everything, and to some extent my own. The story of the madman was inspired by the mad people that you see all over Rwanda. You do not know what happened to them, and whether they should be in hospital or in jail.
I wanted to portray the trauma of the both victims and perpetrators, many of whom were manipulated into becoming killers. I also wanted to capture the feeling afterwards of "What the f***k just happened?", which has not yet been properly dealt with.
Talk about your filmmaking style.
I use metaphors not just because it is cheaper, but also because I did not want to simplify something as complicated as a conflict that saw student killing their teachers, mothers their children etc. I wanted to bring the complexity and wisdom of Rwandan and African poetry into filmmaking, despite being told that Africans will not understand it, which is not true. Why should our films not be as sophisticated as our poetry?
The film's slow pace is a reflection of the pace of my country; things take time in Rwanda.
Where do you position yourself and your films?
I'm a Rwandan filmmaker who obviously has a lot in common with filmmakers from my region. I hate when people use such broad terms as "African cinema" though.
I saw a lot of African films growing up. Very few spoke to me, but I was deeply moved by films from countries like South Korea, Iran and Mexico. I want my films to be radical, like Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop Mambéty. Even if someone gave him money to make it, he was free in his filmmaking and in his way of thinking. You can be frivolous, experimental - anything - as long as you are free. One of our problems is the lack of free and critical thinking. I hate awareness raising and educational films. Hopefully when I have made a few more films, people will compare me to independent filmmakers from South Korea and Germany for example. That is what I want - to belong to the family of world cinema, not just of African cinema.
Despite disliking messages in film, you clearly have something to say.
I am not an activist, but very aware of what is happening around me. I think of myself as an artist and someone with a role to play in society. I want to make films about important subjects, but also be flippant at times. Regardless of what I do, I want to do it in an elegant way and package it as cinema.
A film can support education, but is not supposed to educate. Films can bring issues to the surface and feed public debate, but will not lead to change alone.
In Grey Matter, you ask yourself why you expose yourself to so much pain just to make fiction. Why are you?
The first film is super important and very personal, and the first time you watch it and you see that people are being moved by it, you know that it was worth it. My actress crying real tears, someone telling me that my words have stayed with them, and another one sending me an anonymous e-mail to say that my film motivated them to find out more about what happened in Rwanda; all that makes it worthwile.
Share the story about how your film was saved last minute.
After shooting the film, which was completely self-funded I moved to London for the post-production, but after running out of money (I did not even have transport money to go the studio) I returned to Rwanda where I could not find money to finish the film or even a job because of the financial crisis. While waiting I sent e-mails and rough cuts of the film to potential co-producers, and eventually also to the Tribeca Film Festival. They responded by saying that they loved it and that they believed that it had the potential to become a great film. They gave me 18 days to submit the film, and with their guarantee that they would program it, I was finally able to raise the money to finish it. Since then, Grey Matter has traveled everywhere.
Has the film been screened in Rwanda?
There was one screening in Kigali, which was mostly attended by expats, cast and crew. We do not have any movie theatres in Rwanda, and when I approached the public broadcaster, they asked me for money since they considered screening the film being publicity for me. They do not understand how TV works; that they need content.
Though I would love to screen Grey Matter in Rwanda, I also want to move on to other projects. Making the film was a painful experience and I want to close that chapter, but the film can continue to tour without me.