Rwandan Women in Film: What Stories Do They Have To Tell?

It is known that gender equality is a matter that has gained a lot of ground in Rwanda. The female parliamentary representation being at 64% is a true reflection of the gender norms being broken. Women at decision-making levels and in leadership positions are now normal practice. However, it is not as true when it comes to women in the arts, especially in my industry – filmmaking.

Film director, Kantarama Gahigiri, says that this is part of a general struggle worldwide. A 50/50 gender split is a challenge as the percentage of women filmmakers in the world is 7% according to UNESCO. Some discuss that more needs to be done at the teaching level in order to favour women, and encouragement at every stage is key. However, at the workshops given by Mashariki Film Festival, only 2 female students attended the pre-production and directing class offered by Kantarama, as opposed to 1 the previous year. As the Mashariki Film Festival godmother, Kantarama hopes that being at the forefront can help to have a voice and encourage female filmmakers and women in the arts. “It is important that we also have access as well as imperative stories to tell and as a woman,” she says.

Since boys and girls are brought up differently, it goes without saying that this has an impact on filmmakers. Therefore, since we are being encouraged as kids to be more delicate and empathetic than boys, I wonder if women filmmakers tend to verbalize their feelings more and if it is reflected in their work. If it were the case, then it would mean that telling a story as a woman is different. Various problems are then brought to the table.

Last year, I attended a 3-film screening where ‘A Place for Myself,’ Marie-Clémentine Dusabejambo’s latest work, was having its premiere. The film director was the only female presenting that evening and what struck me the most was how this film actually hit a chord with the audience. There are no movies that an audience can connect more than those that are taking place in familiar environments with characters that the viewers can relate to. Also, the beauty of storytelling is being able to tell your story, share where you are from, but still with themes that are universal, such as the social exclusion of the 9-year-old albino girl, the main character in the movie.

Hence, Marie-Clémentine’s work was much appreciated as ‘A place for myself’ was selected at the Toronto Black Film Festival, Luxor African Film Festival, NATAAL, the 27th edition of the African Asian and Latin America Film Festival of Milan, Zanzibar International Film Festival and Carthage, for which it won The Bronze Tanit for the Short Films category and the prestigious FESPACO for which she won La Chance and the Thomas Sankara prizes.

If the way we are being brought up as a girl affect our understanding of the world, what about our background? Our womanhood is inextricably bound to our “Africa-ness” or “Rwanda-ness,” which in that case, allowing us to offer something different on the table. That represents a true opportunity to balance the story of Africa that has been shown by mainstream media as one of despair, while Rwanda’s story equals one of horror and violence. 

Film director, Jacqueline Kalimunda, says “Rwanda is so cinematographic that we don’t necessarily need to make films about the Genocide.” However, it is the creative energy that arises from a post-war period that makes her travel regularly from Paris, where she is currently based, back and forth. “So I come to Rwanda to make films not only because I am Rwandan, but also because I know that, potentially, there is a possibility to create very strong things,” she says. “To me, it is not by chance that we got Corneille then Stromae in music. There is a very great desire for freedom that comes out of such a tragedy. And, in fact, what people create is not necessarily tied to the drama directly or not to talk about the drama.” She further explains her argument by giving the difficult period of reconstruction after the World War II. “Twenty years after the war, Federico Fellini made la Dolce Vita, Michelangelo Antonioni made L'Avventura, and Akira Kurosawa made Seven Samurai. I think when we have known dramas, we want to get rid of them and creation is a way to do it.”

Hence, 10 years after making ‘Homeland,’ a documentary about the Genocide where she unveiled 80 years of unpublished film archives, she felt the need of telling a different story that is light and fun, as she says. Therefore, love was at the centre of her latest project, which takes the form, this time, of a webseries. A new Rwanda told with a fresh pair of eyes.

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