I have just returned from an amazing trip to Kigali in Rwanda last week. I was invited by the director and producers of ‘Matière Grise’ (Grey Matter), a feature film I started to edit a couple of years ago. It’s strange how things work out sometimes. I remember not too long before this trip, I was saying to my cousins who live in Mozambique that it would be great to work in Africa at some point. First a little background:
In 2009 I was put in touch with the writer and director of Matière Grise (Grey Matter), Kivu Ruhorahoza via Facebook, through one of my friends the producer Suzy Gillet. We never met in person, but Suzy found out I was an editor and introduced us both. Soon after that, Kivu made a trip to London to work on the film with me. It was a great experience, although at the time all I had time to do was a first cut, which he then used to promote the film and to try and attract the much needed completion money. Time passed and eventually Kivu made contact, very despondent, because he hadn’t been awarded the completion funds he was hoping for. Without the money to finish the film, things weren’t looking good.
Then in 2011, all of that was about to change. Someone at TriBeCa (I think one of the judges or programmers) had heard about the film and was curious to see a cut. The film made an immediate impact and was included in this year’s lineup of the festival. And everything changed. Since this time, Kivu has had a number of high profile interviews about the film and the programmers have made a special mention about the film in their opening announcement for this year’s lineup.
As a consequence, I made the trip to Kigali to make the final cut of the film with Kivu. Whilst there, we worked very hard and I took some additional RAM memory to kit out the only Mac Pro available at the Rwanda Cinema Centre. We joked it must have become the fastest computer in Rwanda (10GB RAM)! The hard drives weighed a tone as hand luggage and I had to stop at every customs point to take them out of the bags. “No, they’re not containers, they’re hard drives, no I’m not selling them, yes, I’m a film editor. Would you like to see them?”
In fact, wherever we went in the evenings, they all seemed to be very large houses. But I couldn’t help feeling an emptiness, a certain abandonment about them. Some of the houses, still bared the scars of the genocide, with bullet holes in the wooden beams and slightly twisted window frames, not quite shutting properly. In one particular house, where a Swedish journalist was living, there were a number of people killed there. And despite the sense of occasion our visits seemed to have (maybe because I was new there, it just felt that way), this uncomfortable truth seemed to always be there in the background, staring at you.
I met some great people working at the Rwanda Cinema Centre and whilst working on the final cut, we had to do some pretty complex work. For example, scene 8 in the film, we had to re-record the entire dialogue with the actors. This was due to the fact that it was shot on the first day of filming. According to Kivu, everything that had to go wrong, went wrong. There were no microphone cables, so the only way they could record the audio, was using the mic of a mini-DV camera. Good enough for the first cut, absolutely not for the final article. Fortunately, I had taken with me a high quality digital recorder (Tascam DR100) and we used its unidirectional mic to record just about everything. It was a real life saver.
Another great thing is the music, absolutely beautiful in its construction and simplicity. Some of his musician friends spent some time with him in a recording studio making/composing original music for the film. And somehow, things fitted perfectly. It’s funny how sometimes, when time isn’t on your side, things just slot in, out of sheer obstinate persistence.
One thing I also loved, was taking the moto taxis there. Maybe with hindsight they aren’t the safest way to travel around, but hey, what the heck! It got me in the mornings to the MTN Centre. On the top floor they had a coffee shop with a great view over Kigali where you could eat a full English breakfast (that’s how British I’ve become!…)
After breakfast, we went to work at the Rwanda Cinema Centre.
Then, at night fall, it was time to join the party, some party. There seemed to always be a party somewhere. Beer is cheap, so cases of Musik (the local beer) just kept on coming. I met some incredible and crazy people there, working for the UN, Red Cross, UNICEF, the Norwegian Church Aid and other NGOs. Also met a few Europeans who don’t really know why they’re there, they just are. One particular night, we went out to a night club called Le Must. A very strange combination of a dance floor and a bar with a large flat screen showing BBC World News. It was dancing and listening to Congolese Music that I learnt Britain was bombing Libya!
When we managed to lock the final cut of the film, I was able to really see the film for what it is: An ode to madness with all its nuances of uncertainty and sadness. I couldn’t control my tears. I really, genuinely think the script is brilliant, the direction is firm and the film has moments that really remind me of Italian expressionism. The actors amplify the characters voices through some great performances. I’m so happy to have been part of the process of making this film. Kivu and I shook hands and on that night we went out to celebrate. Properly. The evening ended with us drinking from a selection of single malt whiskeys, out in the porch of two of Kivu’s friends from Norway. We watched the sun rise and fell asleep.
The last day before I left, was the hardest in a way. It was time to look the beast in the face: the genocide of 1994. It is true, I had been working on afilm which dealt to some extent with the traumatic aftermath of the genocide. It is true that every Rwandan I had met during my ten-day visit, had been directly affected by it. Everyone had lost someone dear to them. One particular person, an actor in the film, had lost 15 people. His sister and him were the only people left to tell the story. The writer and director Kivu Ruhorahoza had his family obliterated on his father’s side. His mother had a miraculous escape,saved by a neighbour, who himself took part in the genocide. So yes, to confront the genocide was hard, but it had to be done. I could not go to Kigali and leave without trying to understand what actually happened there for a period of four dark months from April 1994. The Genocide Museum is located by a burial site, a number of mass graves where the remains of 250.000 people are. By the time I finished my visit, I couldn’t find a rational explanation for what had happened there. First came the propaganda to systematically diminish and de-humanise the Tutsis. Through cartoons and jokes in the paper (so, so similar to what was done to the Jews in the wake of the second world war, the anti-semitic cartoons). Then came the parties where food was given, machetes and transistor radios were distributed. Radio played a vital role in the genocide and was a much valued medium to receive news. When Orson Wells broadcasted ‘War of the Worlds’, America was left tense, fearful of an imminent invasion by Extra Terrestrials. In pre-genocide Rwanda the air waves were full of inflammatory broadcasts, creating fear, a sense of impending doom, of disgust towards the Tutsis. “If you don’t do something about these cockroaches, they will come and kill you and your children. Destroy them all and you are carrying out God’s will”. The film ‘Grey Matter’ replicates such a radio broadcast. Then, finally, the lists with names and addresses of the Tutsis were secretly distributed. All that was needed was a flint to set the country on a murdering rampage. And it happened. The president’s plane was shot down and an hour later the first shots were heard. 7 people died every minute. Of a population of 6 Million, 1 million was murdered. With machetes, guns, blunt instruments, anything was a murder weapon. When I came out of the museum and sat down next to Kivu in the garden outside, all I could say was that I couldn’t understand how something on such a horrific scale could have happened. How could a neighbour who had attended another neighbour’s wedding, take upon himself to murder that same family, men, women and children. How can a priest turn his back on his petrified congregation, hiding under his church’s roof and then order the bulldozers to knock the building down? What can happen to one’s mind to unleach something so evil and incomprehensible? And how can one deal with the aftermath of such a cataclysm? Kivu said that when the man who saved his mother died in prison in 2002, he went to his funeral. He wanted to know what it was like for those present, what kind of emotions would he feel. What would it be like, to mourn a convicted murderer. I asked him, what was it like? He said that when he saw his family around the coffin crying the realisation dawned on him that despite the hideous acts the man had committed, they were crying for a father, in the same way anyone does when they loose someone dear to them.
I left Kigali thoughtful and grateful for what I had experienced in the short time I was there. Now, I’m very much looking forward to go to New York on 20th April, see the film on the big screen and look at people’s faces as they watch what I believe is a rare and beautiful film.
For the TriBeCa Film Festival’s page for the film click here.
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