“She was a rope that I climbed onto to come back from hell.”
Ayuub Kasasa Mago is the central subject of the “Finding Hillywood” documentary and tells the story of his life and loss during the highly publicized 100 day period of conflict in Rwanda. The focus becomes his redemption through love and his personal narrative serves as a parallel for the rise of a Rwandan film economy.
This documentary opens with mist over the mountains at sunrise that symbolize how Rwanda moves into an age of light, separated from darkness. The dawn of something electric. A bountiful film economy is a dream waving into the glow of reality.
But this dream is marred by scars. Ayuub retells the horrors of genocide and how it affected his family. He suffered much grief. The legacy of genocide has been even harder still. To overcome it; to expel the internal monsters bred by it; to explain it to youth who learn about 1994, but cannot properly conceive of it; and even to use this national tragedy to fuel individual creativity.
A cast of young film hopefuls share how they became involved in making movies. They present well-defined hopes and clearly planned expectations. It is their hustle that makes transformation in Rwanda possible.
“Finding Hillywood,” though interview heavy, manages to lionize not only the energetic filmmaker, but the audience he serves. The spectator is treated like a jewel, a luxurious component in the filmmaking and distribution process. It is a lean relationship unspoiled by marketing research. Rwanda is still in its time of giving and receiving gifts and film is a treasure.
This documentary is not so much sentimental as it is guiding. “Finding Hillywood” serves as conductor on the journey of building, and rebuilding, through film. We are not meant to cry for Ayuub because he is okay. We are meant to follow Ayuub and allow him to show us the innovation that is happening.
A mass grave is there just beyond the wall. A mass resurrection is also there just beyond the screen. Ayuub, and his back story, ground us in the darkness so that we can understand the light that Rwanda is walking into.
“Finding Hillywood” delivers a timely and internationally significant tale as many Afrikan countries are developing in the arts, particularly the cinematic arts. This documentary includes us in the adventure using beautiful and strong graphics, humor, courage in showing Rwanda just as it is, and a sensational musical score.
Feminism is at play in a soft and reverent way, ensuring women are not forgotten or left out of the renewal process. As the audience within the audience, we are able to marvel at the development, the newness, the dedication and be inspired to create something, to inflate it from the ground up.
The only thing lacking in “Finding Hillywood” is the political perspective. There is no voice given to how much local authorities support or oppose the film festival or a burgeoning film economy. External audiences may wonder at the future of cinema in Rwanda, but “Finding Hillywood” refrains from addressing that.
Also, we may leave wondering how much Rwandan film can evolve. Will they produce films that have absolutely nothing to do with the pain of their past? Though these questions can be a part of what makes Rwanda so provocative, our desire to watch what happens next.
As Ayuub finds satisfaction in life and in film, Rwanda finds strength to do the same and the spirit of creativity spreads like light over the rolling hills.