Sunday, September 18, 2011

Urbanworld FF: Kinyarwanda

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2011 schedule of films, visit the website.

Kinyarwanda, the closing night film from the Urbanworld Film Festival, directed by Alrick Brown, is an ensemble drama set during the Rwanda massacre of 1994, an ethnic clash in which the Hutu, the ruling class, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Tutsi minority. Real and fictional characters intermingle in this series of vignettes depicting not only key events, but everyday life among the Rwandan people, young and old.

This film packs an emotional punch because of the theme running throughout it of forgiveness. The cycle of violence between Hutu and Tutsi had been going on for a long time prior to the '94 massacre, but unlike similar civil wars in other countries, the Rwandans realized that if it were ever to end, somebody needed to swallow their pride and put the wrongs of the past behind them. This is a point Brown emphasized in the Q-and-A after the screening: the fact that as a storytelling trope, revenge is easy, and it's one that many movies throughout history return to again and again. In one scene early in the non-linear movie, set years after the massacre, we see former Rwandan soldiers in a kind of rehabilitation program in which they're trained to acknowledge their role in the conflict and accept responsibility for the things they've done. Looking at their faces and hearing their confessions, it's easy to believe that their emotional scars will not go away anytime soon.

As I mentioned, Brown shot the film Pulp Fiction-style, non-linearly, but this was not a stylistic choice. Brown, who has come to Urbanworld with a film three prior times, was weaned on shorts, and felt more comfortable with them, so when he sat down to write the script, he broke the story down into smaller vignettes that he interconnected. For example, one story involves a pair of young lovers who witness Hutu troops about to execute a bunch of civilians. Later on, we see what led to that moment from the other side.

Brown is young, but wise beyond his years. A former Peace Corps volunteer, he took on the job of making this film after sharing a correspondence with a Rwandan native who finally got a grant to make movies. Brown seemed aware of the potential his film had to open hearts and minds, but as he said, the people whose opinions matter most to him were the Rwandan people, who love the movie.

Kinyarwanda is the second film to be released by the black film distribution organization AFFRM. AFFRM head Ava DuVernay was in attendance at last night's screening, and she announced that the film would be released nationwide November 23.


Previously in the Urbanworld Film Festival:
Brooklyn Boheme
Love Arranged
All Things Fall Apart
Restless City

'Kinyarwanda' is AFFRM's second release!
Kinyarwanda: a primer

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