Rwanda film festival tells women’s stories

Showing local stories and gender-based violence on screen.
Kwetu Film Institute
Photo courtesy Kwetu Film Institute
Kwetu Film Institute

In its 14th edition, Rwanda Film Festival has over the years toured the beautiful countryside of the country while showing local and international stories to people who do not necessarily have access to cinema.

In a country with more than 12 million people with only one movie theatre and two annual film festivals, the amount of stories Rwanda Film Festival is annually able to bring on screen is like a drop in the ocean.

Telling local stories

This year, the film festival premiered a web series titled “Karani Ngufu”. The series tells a local story that shows the kind of struggles housemaids go through in their daily lives. Lead characters are three housemaids who go through their daily routine while trying to achieve their own personal life goals in a small neighbourhood of Kigali city.

In Rwanda families rely on housemaids to help them with domestic chores such as cleaning the house, cooking, laundry, ironing, caring for children among other tasks.

However, a number of challenges weight on housemaids. Low wages, long working hours, unruly bosses, and sexual harassment among others, as the web series director Joseph Njata said.

“Karani Ngufu” is a local expression associated with casual labourers. They usually work in bus parks carrying heavy sacks of goods while packing buses and lorries.

While the majority of labourers involved in that kind of work are men, Njata said that the series goes further to appreciate women who tirelessly work as housemaids in many homes.

“We might not see them carrying heavy luggage but their contribution in our society needs to be appreciated”, noted the web series director.

He added that the message he wants to send out through the web series is that of respect towards housemaids.

Rwanda’s film industry

More than two decades ago Rwanda did not have a single filmmaker when Eric Kabera, founder and director of the Rwanda Cinema Center, started promoting the country film industry.

Rwanda Cinema Center later created the Kwetu Film Institute and the Rwanda Film Festival. Joseph Njata attended Kwetu Film Institute where he learnt filmmaking skills with visiting professors from around the world.

According to Njata Kwetu Film Institute and Rwanda Film Festival play a critical role in nurturing the young Rwandan filmmakers, as it happened for him.

“First the school imparts filmmaking skills to students whereas the festival creates a platform where the films produced by students and other filmmakers are shared with a wide range of audience”.

Njata added that the idea of rewarding the best films during the festival awards night not only encourages filmmakers to tell more stories but also promotes creativity among young filmmakers.

Building up youth’s creativity

“Karani Ngufu” was produced thanks to a master class that was organised in May this year by the Rwanda Media  Project at Kwetu Film Institute in Kigali.

Participants in the master class including Joseph Njata learnt key elements of serial storytelling among others topics with instructors from Germany and elsewhere.  

Filmmaker Kantarama Gahigiri was invited by the project to teach film directing. The Rwandan and Swiss citizen has professionally been coming to Rwanda to teach workshops and is also part of the jury of Mashariki African film festival.

She said that the master class was about finding local stories and empowering local crew to tell their own stories. She added that it was all about finding the specificities of Rwandan stories, how to tell them and how best bring them on screen.

“It is necessary to continue this experience because most crew members are still young as well as the Rwandan film industry and it is a matter of building it”.

Photo courtesy Kwetu Film Institute

Photo courtesy Kwetu Film Institute

Gahigiri said that in order to grow the Rwanda film industry there is a need of spaces for artists to develop their own stories. In addition to that, there has to be a way for them to earn the money because at the end of the day they have to pay their bills.   

“’Karani Ngufu’ for instance is funny, actual, relevant and very well acted. It has given a chance to young actors and is bringing new people on the scene,” noted Gahigiri.

The power of telling your story

“Karani Ngufu” is much more about women, the violence against them and how to respect and nurture them. But it is not frontal and tells you a really funny story.

Instructors such as Gahigiri encourage young Rwandan filmmakers to tell stories based on local themes because they better understand the culture. Rwanda Media Project intends to encourage young filmmakers to tell their own stories, in their languages and for their public.

The Rwanda Media Project coordinator Angelica Stute said that the idea is not to bring European or American concepts to Rwanda film industry It’s about empowering local people to tell their own stories.

“I was really astonished by ‘Karani Ngufu’ web series. I didn’t know about the conflict and when the series was in production I asked if the story was really happening in Rwanda”, noted Stute.

She added that the youthful Rwandan film industry is dominated by males but see some good and inspiring women filmmakers coming up to tell their story.

The Rwanda Film Festival dubbed Hillywood is a platform that can not only promote local stories and filmmakers but lay a strong foundation on which Rwanda film industry will flourish.

Daniel Nzohabonimana

Daniel Nzohabonimana is the director at Gisabo Media in Rwanda. He has a diploma in internet journalism and freelance journalism respectively from London School of Journalism and Writer's bureau. Last but not least, Daniel has a certificate in the art and technique of documentary filmmaking delivered by Kwetu Film Institute in partnership with Europäisches Filmzentrum Babelsberg e.
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