Guest post by Dr. Jeff Holdeman.
Halfway around the world and 25 years ago, starting on April 7, 1994, some 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans in a country of 10 million were killed by their fellow Rwandans in just 100 days. Doing the grim calculation yields an answer of 10% of the population killed at an average of 333 people an hour…how quickly our minds retreat into math and numbers to avoid thinking of the human toll and the human perpetrators…
About 130,000 people were accused of the murders, which quickly overwhelmed the Rwandan prisons and court systems. Rwandan government and society turned to historical traditional practices of “gacaca” (pronounced ga-CHA-cha)—holding court “on the grass” in a village—to have the community hear testimonies and pass judgment, and with the hope that those found guilty would ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims.
However, a December 2018 article in The New Times reported that 78% of Rwandan genocide convicts are still unrepentant: “We have over 27,000 Genocide convicts and many of them are yet to show remorse and apologise to the families of the victims, only about 6,000 (22.2 per cent) have apologised and were forgiven by victims and reconciled,” revealed Rwigamba.
With memorials and banners and markers of mass graves ubiquitous across the country, and with physical and mental scars still throbbing in silence or behind closed doors, how is a country to move forward?
Film quickly emerged as the prime medium to tell this story, from the first videographers sending horrific images to Europe and the US as proof of what was going on in an attempt to get someone to intervene, to the feature filmmakers and documentarians who are using the visual and storytelling power to try to help the reconciliation and healing process.
Since 1994, many films have been made about the genocide and its aftermath, from raw documentaries that see play on public television stations to highly polished dramatic feature films that garner awards at international film festivals.
This film series will offer the IU and Bloomington community a chance to examine this terrifying tragedy after 25 years (perhaps for the first time for most of our undergraduates who were not yet born), to learn the lessons that can be gleaned, and to honor the power of film-making in its ability to represent the darkest depths of what inhumanity can reach upward to the shining light of rebirth and hope exemplified in a country that is rising from ashes. This series will offer three films that run this gamut: nightmare, reconciliation, and optimism.
(2007, directed by Lee Isaac-Chung)
In this dramatic buddy movie and road movie, set against the backdrop of an unhealed, post-genocide Rwanda, two teenaged best friends, Munyurangabo and Sangwa, who are making their living in the capital Kigali, set off for Sangwa’s village with backpacks and a Chekhovian prop. Unresolved anger, simmering distrust, and deep tensions manifest as mere ripples on the surface of a country officially mandated to get along, and the audience is a fellow traveler on the path to learning that liberation is a journey.
Mon Voisin, Mon Tueur (My Neighbor, My Killer)
(2009, directed by Anne Aghion)
How can a country of ten million bring to trial approximately 130,000 people accused of murdering 800,000 neighbors in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century? Anne Aghion’s documentary is the culmination of ten years of filming the implementation of the traditional Gacaca [pronounced ga-CHA-cha] courts as a form of restorative justice. This quiet, slow-breathing movie focuses its lens on one community as it prepares for and carries out a hearing “on the grass.”
Rising from Ashes
(2012, directed by T.C. Johnstone)
This feature-length documentary tells the story of the creation of the Rwandan national cycling team in the aftermath of the genocide and its riders’ six-year quest to represent Rwanda in the 2012 Olympics. Jock Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, is drawn by the unexpected challenge and motivated by the darkness in his own past to teach the members of his team the redemptive value of suffering and pain to heal and rise.
All three films will be free of charge, and each will be immediately followed by a question-and-answer session for the audience featuring IU specialists on Rwanda, genocide history, and civil justice.
Today, as the United States and other leading powers continue to debate the political and financial role that they must (or must not) play on the world stage (from military intervention to peace-making to humanitarian aid for disaster victims), the lessons from the Rwandan genocide seem to have been forgotten, or perhaps were simply too painful to be confronted and learned when they first assaulted our eyes and minds as they played out 25 years ago.
About the organizers of the series: Founded at IU in the fall of 2008, Books & Beyond seeks to develop globally-minded students who are prepared for life in the 21st century by increasing critical literacy skills, addressing the Rwandan “book famine,” and developing models for cross-cultural teaching and learning. The Books & Beyond project is a collaborative service-learning project that connects the Kabwende Primary School (Kinigi, Rwanda), students at Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana, USA), and The Project School and Harmony School (Bloomington, Indiana, USA). Books & Beyond is a student-led project with two main aims: to provide high-quality reading material for school children in Rwanda, a country that is experiencing a “book famine,” and to foster critical thinking skills as students author, illustrate, publish, and market an annual cross-cultural anthology of children’s stories. Each summer, they also hold a two-week literacy camp for students at Kabwende, and has built a reading room, fence, and playground, as well as providing teacher training and even community vision care through a collaboration with the IU School of Optometry. This outstanding initiative engages youth in an innovative project of their own design that helps them reach beyond international and cultural boundaries to meet each other’s needs. The students are the main participants and beneficiaries as they work together to produce excellent reading material at no cost to the recipients and create a new generation of published student authors. It has received local and national awards for its excellence.
Munyurangabo and Mon Voisin, Mon Tueur will be screened at the IU Cinema on April 7 and April 14 respectively as part of the series Rwandan Genocide 25th Anniversary Commemoration. A third film, Rising from Ashes, will be shown at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive Screening Room on April 17. This screening is free, but reservations are required and can be made here.
This series is sponsored by IU Books & Beyond; Department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education; Department of Political Science; Department of History; College of Arts and Sciences; Department of International Studies; and supported through IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program.
Dr. Jeff Holdeman is a co-founder of IU’s Books & Beyond international service-learning project and the director of undergraduate studies in the IU Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures. He serves as a board member and faculty advisor to Books & Beyond, and has twice traveled to Rwanda in the summer with the project’s students to train teachers, assess needs, and forge community connections.