Kansas Citians get to travel around the world through movies all the time, but come Tuesday, September 10 and Wednesday, September 11, locals will go to the Alamo Drafthouse and travel through history and across the globe to Rwanda.
A new documentary, “Finding Hillywood” examines the emerging voices of Rwanda’s new cinematic economy, while preserving the conversations of a brutal past. The film follows feet flat in the mud as they march forward out from a somewhat misrepresented and murky reputation into self-actualization.
Preserving the iconography of the “big screen” itself, “Finding Hillywood” seeks to illuminate the majesty of film and its role in the healing of Rwanda after internationally publicized civil unrest.
This duality of past & present is represented by the subjects of the documentary Ayuub Kasasa Mago, a filmmaker, and the Hillywood Film Festival. Both characterize the human authority of forgiveness and the cultural power of film.
As the country evolves beyond the hurt and reclaims health, cinema becomes a viable therapy. It is also a point of cultural contention. “Finding Hillywood” walks the thin line as it tours domestically and abroad, film festival after film festival, symbolizing the contours of transition.
The challenge for the docu-narrative is a matter of history -- telling it truthfully; completely, and controlling how it affects the global discussion about the true direction of Rwanda.
Rwanda does not want to be defined by genocide. Though genocide is one small piece of its historic fabric, Rwanda, through the spirit and behaviors of its youth, is ready for advancement.
“Finding Hillywood” embodies both glances -- the one to days gone by and the eyes watching for days to come.
In the business of bringing the documentary to life producers had to think about funding while simultaneously trying to create a narrative for as wide an audience as possible.
Director/producer Leah Warshawski recalls that balancing act. “From our experience in trying to raise money big grant organizations wanted to talk way more about the genocide than the film wanted to, but young people are ready to move onward. The filmmakers are ready to move forward.”
According to Warshawski, some Rwandans are still making genocide movies, but they are not very popular with the general audience. A stateside treasure like “Hotel Rwanda” is received differently among Rwandan viewers. There is more scrutiny over the details and more willingness to deny dramatizations and untruths.
The Rwandan people are interested in self-realization. The goal is to have a respect for the past, the lives that were lost, and the subsequent forgiveness that arose from the Rwandan hills. They prepare the path for a new present and future that may include a booming cinematic economy.
“It’s a really interesting time right now.” Warshawski expresses excitement for the energy in this shifting period. “Rwanda has grown and is growing a film economy rather than an industry. The government understands that there is money to be made.”
“Finding Hillywood” supports those organizational efforts and acts as sort of a journal for both the past and the rising present in the hopes of making their key audience, the Rwandan, proud. “Back in Rwanda last month we got a great reaction. It was translated entirely in Kinyarwandan and shown five times on inflatable screens. The audience was really engaged and participated greatly in the Q&A.
“They were just in tears. They feel they’re being fairly represented, including the industry, and that [our film] reflects what’s happening now.”
What’s happening now is growing-pains after birth. The Hillywood Film Festival searches for its footing while the Rwandan government becomes more involved, extending its reach beyond subsidies into commissions and federations.
Mark Bell, a critic from FilmThreat.com, released a quote about “Finding Hillywood”:
“Finding Hillywood is a cynicism killer and a reminder how incredible the medium of film can be.”
Warshawski responds with a chuckle. “It’s one of my favorite things that’s been said about the film and I’m pretty damn cynical.”
See “Finding Hillywood” as the premiere film in the first KC FilmFest Spotlight Series at the Alamo Drafthouse Tuesday, September 10, at 7 p.m, with a reflection and reception following the screening. Tickets are $7 and available to purchase in advance at the KC FilmFest website.