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Published on March 11th, 2015 | by John Nesbit


//Review – Kinyarwanda

Movie: Kinyarwanda

Director: Alrick Brown

Screenwriter: Alrick Brown

Cast: Cassandra Freeman, Edourd Bamporiki


Having seen Hotel Rwanda a few times, I am a bit more aware of Rwanda and the horrific genocide that took place in 1994 than most Americans. After all, this story rated little more than a brief blip of media coverage in the states at the time. Of course there is always more to the story, confirmed by a native Rwandan friend who was only 12 years old during the genocide. He became an orphan that spring, losing his father in April and his mother a month later.

Without going into detail or denouncing the 2004 film, my friend indicated that Hotel Rwanda didn’t reflect the reality of the situation–it relies on a Hollywood formula that requires dramatic flair along with heroes and villains. Indeed, filmmakers have long mined the Holocaust for projects (many of them unimaginative and derivative) that are essentially immune to criticism. A massacre of 1,000,000 souls in the heart of Africa over a 100 day period provides plenty of material for tales of good vs. evil.

Kinyarwanda offers a vastly different film treatment of the Rwandan genocide. The directorial debut project of Alrick Brown, the film premiered at the 11 Sundance Film Festival and received accolades at a variety of lesser known festivals. It is now available on DVD via Netflix.

Brown strives for a more realistic examination of the genocide by using as many local Rwandan people behind and in front of the screen as possible. A number of locally shared stories had been incorporated into the six storylines that make up the screenplay.

As difficult as it is, time does allow for healing … it took 18 years for the most truthful film rendition  to receive widespread release. Kinyarwanda deftly weaves its way through the neighborhoods of Kigali to show how the surrounding slaughterhouse affects the lives of ordinary citizens struggling for survival. Thus, the genocide serves more as backdrop as the characters go through their daily routines.

Machete wielding Hutus are easy marks for traditional villains, but the film refuses to follow a traditional Hollywood route. Background material previously neglected explains how the seeds for this tragic genocide had been sown shortly after WWI when Belgians split Tutsis and Hutus into an artificial social caste system. The film also travels through time between 1994 and a decade later inside a re-education camp; this illustrates how participants must deal with their guilt, actively seek forgiveness, and strive to redeem themselves.

Mass chopping scenerios don’t allow time for reflection nor afford opportunities for immediate heroes in the real universe. No Don Cheadle style heroics here, but Kinyarwanda shows the kinder, gentler side of Muslims most often ignored in American media coverage. This is also based on historic fact: the Mufti of Rwanda, the most respected Muslim leader in the country, issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from participating in the killing of the Tutsi. Thus, mosques became a major refuge for many; it wasn’t the Hotel Rwanda.

But it’s not merely the historical accuracy of the broad brushstrokes that make this film so invaluable. It’s the small touches–the very human details that distinguish Kinyarwanda. This was confirmed when viewing the film with my Rwandan friend; I frequently had to pause the DVD as it sparked memories–music they played at home, a belt spanking punishment, marriage customs, locations he recalled, and a number of acting extras that he recognized. Numerous times my friend would nod his head up and down and quietly remark “This is TRUE!”

Most of all, the spirit of the film illuminates the reality of the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. It reflects the attitude adopted by the current and far more stable Rwandan government–acknowledging the tragedy while striving for rebirth. The bloody massacre reflects the worst side of the human condition, yet the strongest still find ways to understand, forgive, and move on with their lives.





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 Me with executive producer Ishmael Ntihabose in Kingali, Rwanda

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 Mass genocide site: Ntarama Church (near Kingali, Rwanda)

//Review – Kinyarwanda John Nesbit



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About the Author

was a former English teacher at Tuba City High School and member of the Online Film Critics Society. He now volunteers as a docent at the Musical Instrument Museum and is co-owner of a budget hotel in Kathmandu. For fun he enjoys hiking, watching baseball and movies, traveling around the world, and especially teaching English to the Tibetan Buddhist monks at DSL monastery.

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