"Kinyarwanda," an independent film written, produced, and directed by Alrick Brown, explores both the horror of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the forgiveness following the event.
"I wanted to show humanity," Brown explained. Even though the stats are grim --- an estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days --- Brown focused on the individual people, hoping to bring the story alive by "making one person special, one drop of blood too much."
The film won the World Cinema Audience Award for Dramatic Picture at the Sundance Film Festival, and made its West Coast debut at the Searching for Sanctuary Film Festival this past weekend. The day-long festival, hosted by Biola University, also featured several other short films and documentaries that explores the human longing for true sanctuary and the repercussions of its absence.
The idea for the film started when a Rwandan acquaintance requested Brown's help in telling the stories behind the Rwandan genocide. Brown jumped at the opportunity and was soon on location in Rwanda, facing a $250,000 budget, a cast of almost entirely non-actors, and a script full of helicopters and explosions that would far exceed his financial capabilities. So he rewrote the entire film in an unprecedented five weeks and shot the full feature in just 16 days.
"Kinyarwanda" weaves together the stories of several people Brown encountered during his stay in Rwanda. Frustrated by the lack of intimacy in other films on the genocide, Brown sought to connect his audience directly to the hearts of those involved. "I want you to see an African child dreaming," a vision Brown did bring to life in a unique animated segment of the movie.
Consequently, the film focuses intently on the forgiveness and redemption that later came out of Rwanda's suffering. Brown chose "Kinyarwanda" as the title because the language was spoken by both Hutus and Tutsis at the time, a fact he believes highlights the unification, brotherhood, and reconciliation of the country rather than the violence or hate.
This idea of absolution - of grace in unexpected places as a sort of haven from vengeance - links the film to the festival's topic of sanctuary, particularly in its connection to the sanctuary cities of the Old Testament. Although the forgiveness demonstrated in Rwanda and underscored in this film was both beautiful and unbelievable, Brown is quick to clarify that it is a process for Rwandans, one which they continue to work at on a daily basis.
Brown hopes to see "Kinyarwanda" take root in the Los Angeles area, earn a shot at distribution, and continue to tell its story across the country and the world.