Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Rwandan Holocaust On Film

"Let me try and describe Kigali on April 1994," Nick Hughes, a documentary cameraman with Vivid Features told and attentive audience in Harvard. "A convoy of Belgium paratroopers was going to a Catholic mission to rescue a white expatriate and we tugged along. The convoy made its way through the centre of Kigali and there were a few bodies by the side of the road."
"The convoy turned into a heavily populated residential area and along this 10 mile stretch there were roadblocks about every 100 m manned by the interahamwe," Nick went to vividly describe the gruesome picture. "Every 20 meters was a line of bodies neatly laid out, with blood oozing from fatal head wounds and the situation grew grimmer. Every 5 meters, there was another line of bloodstains where more bodies had been laid out some time before. The blood ran down the side of the road and collected in the gutter, the gutter actually flowed with blood."
He was in Kigali from the start of the genocide and in spite of having filmed other serious conflict situation elsewhere, what he witnessed was unimaginable. Like the victims of the killing, he has been haunted by the grotesque images of the killing and he has attempted to exorcise these demons in an engrossing film that has been well received all over the world.
Like James Cameron in the Titanic, Nick Hughes' 100 Days is a moving story of love and brutality that is based on actual events but told in a fictional way that has allowed them to be more dramatic.
"In August 1994, the genocide was just over but the smell of death was heavy in the air," he recalled the horrors that made him vow to immortalize them on motion picture. Bodies rotting under trees, churches full of more recent horror and from the air, mile upon mile of derelict Tutsi houses, crumbling monuments to the families who had once lived there. Of these were to be the only monuments, I knew that was unbearably sad and terribly wrong. I vowed then, in however, small way; I would ensure the Rwandan genocide should not be forgotten."
And in his story that took five years to make, a local Hutu official is persuaded to begin implementing the government's policy against the Tutsi, which is to completely wipe them out.
When the killing begins, Josette (Cleophas Kabasita), a beautiful young Tutsi girl and her family struggle to survive the killing by taking refuge in a church, supposedly protected by the UN forces.
While this is going on, Josette's brother is hunted down and murdered and her boyfriend rescued by the rebels. But the Hutu Catholic priest betrays Josette's family and only agrees to spare her life if she submits to his nightly violations. by the time she is reunited with her boyfriend, neither of them can face the brutal reality of their situation. She is pregnant and bears the priest's child, which she immediately abandons and this certainly heightens the drama of these ghastly events that changed the lives of many Rwandese and observers like Nick.
The precision with which it was executed was an indicator that it was a well planned massacre and the brutality was preposterous.
"I had covered wars before but that was different, that was Genocide," he recalled. "Two women were pulled out of their house, sat down in a pile of bodies and allowed to beg for their lives for twenty minutes before being clubbed to death. Killing surrounded me. I had my own living room window on Auschwitz. I now know that I had seen evil in majesty."
The subsequent reaction by the international community, the churches, humanitarian agencies and the media was one of betrayal that traumatized him in the same way it had traumatized the victims of the genocide.
"That a betrayal of the survivors and a betrayal of the truth was the norm. In September the killers, fled from their crime and sort refuge, across the border but within the safety of DR Congo. They took with them their families and even whole community where they sort protection as hostages," told his attentive Harvard audience. "The world in the form of the UN, Aid agencies and western governments rose as one with great conviction to help the criminals and their communities. While nothing had been done to discourage these same people from planning or committing genocide."
He added: "I stood on Goma airport just two miles across from the Rwanda border, transport plane after transport plane landed, US soldiers plumbed in water and draped food canisters from airplanes that landed beside the road, highly paid Aid workers most whom had never been to Africa before, poured off executive jets, UN PR personnel stood by satellite up-links, giving moment by moment updates to eager journalists. 2 billion dollars were to be spent on the people who had just committed genocide; much of that money was siphoned off to restart a war that continues to this day. The only planes that landed at Kigali airport were for the evacuation of foreign nationals."
This sense of betrayal forms cornerstone of "the truth of the Rwandan question" that should never be forgotten. It is the underlying thematic concern in the film that has been screened at several international film festivals in Toronto, Milan, Los Angeles, Sithengi and others.
This "truth" has not been wholly captured in the numerous excellent books that were written and documentaries made telling every aspect of the genocide.
"I worked on ones revealing the roles of the government, the rebels, the French, the UN and the Catholic church even children and nuns," he noted. "It would seem that the failing of the main protagonists such as the UN, the aid agencies, the Catholic Church, the French were proven beyond doubt but when I read or listened to general public recounting of the perceptions it seemed the idea of betrayal, the magnitude of the suffering was lost."
It is indisputable that documentaries that carried interviews with survivors told tales of loss and cruelty in a way that no fiction ever could match. However, it is true that they often end up being listened to by a small number of people. Full length feature film has a wide audience and it is these people that he hope will watch in 100 Days.
The Rwandan tragedy continues to draw serious discussion. Early this week, International Development Research Centre launched the book The Media and The Rwanda Genocide Edited by Allan Thompson, which is certainly the latest addition in a growing list of material about the genocide. There are several movies Sometimes In April, Hotel Rwanda and others by Rwandese and foreigners that continue to highlight the issue.
I hope we can continue the debate and find a way forward that something like that never happens again in Africa. What are your thoughts?

Parading for Peace by Bel Haj Taib from Tunisia

Parading for Peace by Bel Haj Taib from Tunisia
An eye-catching work or art. A fragile multi-media piece, Bel Haj’s sculpture/installation dubbed “Parading for Peace” composed of several tortoises made from soldiers helmets and in a symbolic and yet contradictory postures that leaves you with no doubt that it is a military parade hopefully for piece.

The Market by Bertiers from Kenya

The Market by Bertiers from Kenya
It is always a beehive of activities and no one can aptly capture like an artists does. It is a deep, profound piece with various stories that have many related subthemes that make Bertiers such an outstanding artist of his generation.

Ariel Landscape by Bruce Onobrakpeya from Nigeria

Ariel Landscape by Bruce Onobrakpeya from Nigeria
Made from various computer CPU parts, the piece leaves you with no doubt as to what you may be looking. An aerial view of a well planned city and you can actually pick out where the industrial area is located, the residential estates, skyscrapers and others.