In this month of April, as we observe the 23rd Commemoration of The Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, I am sharing my very first film-portrait, Ishimwa: from Bloodshed to Grace.
I was about to start a master degree in documentary-making when I met Ishimwa and one of my first assignments was to conduct an interview, which he agreed to be part of. Video-wise, I had done few things but by meeting Ishimwa, I got exposed to many layers of complexity that I shied away from putting together such a story. The entire project was shot in 2013 but all the footage remained in my external drive for two good years. It is only when I moved to Rwanda that I edited this piece. Being a Rwandan born and raised outside the continent, I couldn’t see myself being behind this project. I felt like it was not my place to tell a story of a Genocide survivor. In fact, it was not my plan at all to tell that story. I just wanted to ask him questions about being a black male ballet dancer in London but then, it became something else.
It was my aunt Jacqueline who insisted, saying most of the stories she hears are about widows and mothers. Now that the survivors, who were babies during the events, have grown up, we need to hear about these experiences. We need to hear how the loss of their parents or close family members has shaped their childhood, teenage years and keep shaping their adult life. At the very least, Ishimwa gave us a new perspective.
Sometimes when we hear the number ‘1 million’, it sounds just like a number and not the number of lives that have been lost. One day, when I was 16, just out of curiosity, I decided to read a book called ‘Survivantes’ – may be you have read it, the cover is a painting of a woman, therefore it almost felt like fiction as the cover didn’t have a “real face”. But what struck me was to read an ensemble of survivors’ stories, each more horrifying than the last, and realising that survivors, in their own ways, deal with prolonged grieving and trauma. So when I started the editing of this short film, something that I knew is that I wanted the piece to humanize the story of a Genocide survivor who dealt with prolonged grieving and trauma over time, and the effect this has on a human being - just like the book - and not news footage of victims lying on the floor, as it was suggested at my university. Ishimwa's art is full of emotions and sentimentality that represents on its own layers of storytelling.
Coincidentally meeting Ishimwa in London's Underground was the beginning of a long friendship. But more importantly, this encounter had been a powerful catalyst for both my personal growth and my creative expression. This short film helped me to grow as a storyteller and served and will continue serving as a preamble to future endeavours.