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Tales of war and hope: Movies help Rwanda heal

From Amanda Sealy, CNN
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Rwandan filmmakers at Tribeca
  • Four Rwandan directors took their artistic visions to this year's Tribeca Film Festival
  • Their movies deal with the aftermath of the country's genocide
  • Rwanda's film industry in its infancy
  • Films can educate and move the war-torn country forward

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera.

New York (CNN) -- A group of young Rwandan movie directors are making their mark on the world stage, and helping to heal the wounds of the country's troubled past.

Last month, four young Rwandan film makers traveled to New York's Tribeca Film Festival to showcase their stories, inspired by the resilience and beauty of their country.

Making its world premiere at the renowned film festival, "Grey Matter," by filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza, is one of the first feature-length films to be directed by a Rwandan who still resides in his homeland.

The film moves between fantasy and reality to illustrate the psychological aftermath of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Three perspectives, one Rwanda
Rwanda's emerging film industry

The movie was given a Special Jury Mention at the New York festival "for its audacious and experimental approach."

Ruhorahoza says the idea for "Grey Matter" originated just after the genocide, when he was about 13 years old. He says he wanted to help people understand the effects of the violence.

"After '94 I just saw so much and it was overwhelming," he says. "There are so many people who have lost everything, everything -- parents, siblings, their houses -- and don't even have a place to live. And who talks about them?"

To complete his film, Ruhorahoza says he had to overcome many obstacles that stand in the way of most emerging Rwandan directors.

"I didn't get any money from any institution," he says. "Rwanda, we don't have a film industry, we're still trying to build up one -- I couldn't even get a tripod under my camera, we couldn't get a sound recorder."

Although still in its infancy, Rwanda's film industry has the potential to educate and move the war-torn country forward.

The Tribeca festival also featured "Perspective: Rwanda" -- a series of powerful short films by three young Rwandan directors sharing their stories and examining the theme of "reconciliation."

All Rwandans want to be reunited and reconciled, they want to see the children playing on the hills without thought of the past.
--Marie-Clementine Dusabejambo

"Saa-Ipo" narrates the story of a talented street musician who wants to make a life out of his passion for music. Director Jean Luc Fils Habyarimana chooses not to address the genocide issue head-on but instead focuses on life after the war.

"There are a lot of films about genocide and I think many people already know what happened to Rwanda," he says. "It was terrible, it was very bad, but we need to show people other things.

"Of course we need to talk about genocide, but we need also to show people that after genocide we have other things to do, to show people we have other things to share."

In "Lyiza," director Marie-Clementine Dusabejambo tells the tale of a young student who discovers that the parents of one of her classmates were responsible for the killing of her family.

She says that with her film she aims to show the world how Rwandans managed to reconcile and solve their problems themselves without needing any help.

"All Rwandans want to be reunited and reconciled, they want to see the children playing on the hills without thought of the past," she says.

"That is why they try to forgive. It is forgiveness that transforms the moment but does not erase the past."

In his film "Shema," Kayambi Musafiri decided to cast his own brother for the role of a young man who was left crippled during the genocide -- a fitting choice since the director's brother himself lost a leg during the violence.

"It was very hard for us both, (my) brother and me, but also we just wanted to show the whole world that things like that can happen but you can just move forward and look for the better future, education and having good times in your list of life," he says.

The very fact that Rwanda's filmmakers are being recognized globally is a sign that, perhaps, the country is doing just that -- moving forward to a better future.