For approximately 100 days during the spring and summer of 1994, Rwanda descended into a genocidal nightmare of torture, rape, and murder. Spurred by ancient ethnic hatreds that were sanctioned and encouraged by a broken and disorganized government, somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men, women, and children were killed or maimed in the racial violence, most of them from the ethnic Tutsi clans (along with moderate Hutus as well).
Kinyarwanda (also the official language of 12 million Rwandans) is a film that depicts both the horror as well as the courage seen throughout the country during this terrible time of violence. Based on several true accounts, the film alternates between each story before coming back around to link some stories together as well as to bring the film to an ultimately uplifting climax. Similar to other films that depict seemingly unrelated storylines before linking them all together (Babel, Magnolia, Pulp Fiction) the viewer is introduced to several different characters and situations before these stories are eventually tied together near the end. The viewer meets Jean, a young lady who has sneaked away from home to be with her friends only to come home later that night to find her parents murdered. We also meet a small boy named Ishmael, who brings the Hutu militia home to show them the "guns and cockroaches". Ready to massacre the family, the militia are surprised when the boy inserts an old videotape of an American war movie then walks over to the cupboard and kicks it, sending cockroaches scurrying to safety. "Guns and cockroaches," Ishmael innocently states. We also see many young Hutu men in a reeducation camp, seeking both the forgiveness of the Tutsi survivors as well as the forgiveness they must seek within themselves.
Rwanda is a country divided not only along ethnic lines, but religious lines as well. Part Catholic and Protestant, there is also a large minority of Muslims in the country. Along with the stories of violence and hatred, there are also stories of love and heroism. Many Muslims struggled with their religious beliefs and centuries-old hatreds; many chose to hide Christian Tutsi’s. In one of the most powerful and poignant stories of the film, a Muslim mufti and Catholic priest forge a strong bond and work together to save a mosque full of Tutsi refugees.
Kinyarwanda is a moving tribute to the people of Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi, Christian and Muslim. Director Alrick Brown has crafted a touching tribute to the resiliency of the Rwandan people. Brown shows a great deal of wisdom in crafting his story; while there is no denying the horrific violence of this time period, instead of depicting that violence in a prurient and graphic way, most of the violence is only hinted at or occurs off-screen, thus avoiding the potential pitfall of exploiting the violence that actually occurred during this horrific period in Rwandan history. Instead, Brown chooses to focus on story and character, the real centerpieces of the film.
In a time when Christian and Muslim beliefs seem perpetually in conflict, Brown uses his story to show how similar people of different faiths can be. The ultimate message is one that is uplifting as both mufti and priest work together in a spirit of love and trust to save literally hundreds of lives. This is quite a refreshing theme after the past decade of antagonism between the two religions since 9-11 occurred. And while the film addresses a violent period in Rwandan history, because the director has chosen to use restraint, it is a film that even junior-high aged kids can watch. No doubt, they will learn of the terrible genocide of 1994, but they will also learn that many people of different views and beliefs cooperated and collaborated to save many lives. In the midst of the carnage and chaos, reason and love were also present, and many times this reason and love prevailed. And that is the ultimate message of this film.
Kinyarwanda is being released by Breaking Glass Pictures May 1. For more information, go to www.breakingglasspictures.com.