Alrick Brown talks about Kinyarwanda with The Eye
April 7 marked the 18th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which took the lives of 800,000 people. The Eye sat down with Alrick Brown, director and writer of the documentary KINYARWANDA, to discuss his role in the remembrance of the tragedy.
First, could you talk about the film Kinyarwanda in general? Start with the content.
The film is based on some of the actual happenings during the Rwanda genocide. We took stories from different sources: from a child, from a couple, from two soldiers, from a priest and an imam, and that will give the audience a more comprehensive look at what actually happened during the genocide. And it was our intention to tell a more significant story, not to portray heroes or villains but just people, caught up in the horror of a crazy situation. The film is really about life and love and forgiveness, and how in the midst of the craziest things life goes on. There was a culture in Rwanda prior to the genocide, and there was one after the genocide.
Why did you decide to make this film?
I served a couple years in the Peace Corps, and then I went to NYU. One of my closest friends ended up serving in Rwanda. He got in a cab his first day in Rwanda and met this man Ishmael and they really hit it off. Ishmael was a genocide survivor and an aspiring filmmaker. Josh hooked us up, we emailed back and forth for several years, and finally Ishmael got a grant for something he wanted to do about how Muslim influence had an impact on the genocide, and I told him I was kind of ashamed I hadn’t heard about it and I wanted to come to Rwanda and work on it with him. So I was really going to Rwanda to help another filmmaker tell his story, and when I got there I ended up having a much larger role in telling the individual stories that existed there.
How has it been since it began circulating?
The film premiered at Sundance in 2011, which was an amazing experience for a first-time filmmaker to have a film at Sundance. The response was overwhelming, and then at the end of the festival we walked away with the World Cinema Audience award. It was a validation that we did something right and put something right on that screen. But it was even better when we showed it in Rwanda and many Rwandans were proud of what we did. That was really the reason that we made it, for Rwandan people to feel proud. And it’s really amazing that people all over America, in pockets, are getting this experience, and the dialogue that goes with it, talking about forgiveness, love, hope, and not just looking at Rwanda as some place over there, looking at ourselves and our cultural differences. I do this stuff to try to change the world.
What do you consider film’s chief power in changing the world?
Film is one of the mediums that’s easily mass-consumed. People take in these stories of places they normally wouldn’t travel to, meet these characters. If it’s a good film, it should be an educational experience, put you in a different place. It’s powerful, whether it’s good or bad, it has an impact on how we see the world. For me and my work, because the medium’s so powerful there’s a responsibility to tell stories that matter, that will make the world better in some way, shape, or form, even if that means putting up horror in the audience’s face and saying “we’re not perfect.”
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