In Cinemas March 31

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Diary Five:

June 15th.

A month to go before we film and I am meeting, once again, a senior member of the Rwandan government. Key to the success of the filming was the support of the Rwandan government. I have been fortunate to work with a brilliant journalist based in Kigali, Helen Vesperini, who introduced me to key ministers. One was particularly highly placed. Every once in a while I would meet to update him. He speaks quietly, his elongated body clad in an immaculate suit seems to almost drool over the chair. We meet regularly and publicly. It’s an enjoyable experience. He is fascinating and excellent company. And cool with it. Even the ring tone on his phone is cool – it chirrups like a distant cicada. If he takes the call his voice will disappear into a deathly whisper – probably Mtwame, the Big Chief – President Kagame. Rwanda’s power extends far beyond its relative size – such is the respect with which it is held throughout Africa for its recovery since 1994 – and this man is at the heart of many decisions.

We have become friends. God knows what he finds interesting in me. We talk about Rwanda, our wives and children, what we would do if we were not doing our jobs – normal stuff. He is our chief supporter for the film. There are some here that would rather we were not here revisiting an episode that they want to forget because they believe Rwanda must move on. My friend sees the film differently – a means of reminding the West of what happened and ensuring that the story remains in the present – a potential way to reconcile Hutu and Tutsi.

It’s a view that excites plenty of expatriate opinion on the weekends at the Umubano Hotel. Amid the “thwock” of tennis balls and the screaming chatter of small children at the pool, westerners recline on sun loungers and discuss the best way forward for Rwanda. Some think that revisiting the past and doing away with ethnic labels – Tutsi and Hutu – won’t lead to a natural, organic harmony between the two ethnic groups. But I’m not so sure. Don’t forget that nearly 30% of Rwanda had always intermarried and I trust Kagame and his ideas much more than some western bureaucrat out on a two year posting equipped with a crumpled mission statement and a badly written university thesis entitled Aid and Poverty – the Third World Paradigm.

Broiled by the long afternoon heat, Rwanda settles into luminous dusk. The hills stretch out, overlapping each other, turn milky and then, like a door shutting on a closet, Rwanda snaps into darkness.

-David Belton (Producer)


At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opinons of officials, or anyone who has been in Rwanda for more than the three months required for the shooting of the film, cannot be brushed aside as easily as David does here.

The longer someone stays in Rwanda the more complex everything becomes. As a Kigali long-hauler (25 yrs here) once described opinons on Rwanda "If you come for 3 months, you could probably write a book, if you stay for 30 yrs you could probably write about a paragraph".

If the negativism of some ex-pats must be taken in the light of someone on a two year career path with crumpled policys and outdated theories, the opinons in David's diary entry must be taken in the light of someone who felt bad about leaving Rwanda in 1994 and someone who desperatly needed Government approval in order that his movie be made in 2004.

At 3:41 AM, Anonymous david belton said...

I absolutely agree with the anonymous correspondent when he/she says the longer one stays here the more complex things become. That's what I was trying to get at...that received opinion about Rwanda is a difficult one. That university degrees can't get to grips with the enormity of the task that Rwanda faces to reconcile.
And it's true I felt bad about leaving in 1994 but it's not the case that I was desperate for government approval. I've made enough mistakes in twenty years of making films to know that compromising a story editorially to curry favour with a government is a route to disaster. It would be an insult both to the filmmakers, the story, and the government. The story we told was the story we always wanted to tell.

At 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies, I didnt mean to question your artistic or editoral integrity. I guess what I wanted to imply was that you were fortunate that the story you set out to tell coincided with the "government line" on the genocide - that Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by extremist Hutus while the West stood and watched. (And I'm not questioning that this is a truth)

Had you, for example, wanted to tell the story of high profile old regieme Hutus who sheltered Tutsis, or thrown into question the relationship between the Tutsi who were massacred and the Tutsi who saved them from genocide...well who knows, you may well have ended up shooting in South Africa...and I sincerely doubt you'd have had the public backing of any survivors.


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