Lisa and Rob Fruchtman’s “Sweet Dreams” is a deeply moving film set in the Rwandan countryside that stitches together disparate story lines into one of the most crazy quilt documentaries ever made.
With the 1994 genocide hovering in the background, the Fruchtmans tell the story of Rwanda’s first all-women’s drum troupe who decide to open an ice cream parlor. The directors attempt to juggle a lot in “Sweet Dreams.” Some transitions aren’t as smooth as the ice cream, but you’d have to have a distressingly chilly heart not to be touched by their effort. The film bursts with music and color and energy.
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For Rwandan theater director Kiki Katese, it’s all about music for people who forgot how to smile, how to cry, how to live. She saw the project as a chance to heal deep, long-festering wounds. Or at least move on: “We have orphans, widows; we have children of perpetrators. Whatever happened before, we don’t want to know.”
In a culture where women were traditionally prohibited from playing drums, seeing these 60 women joyously dancing and pounding out percussion in unison – after over 800,000 Tutsis were killed by the Hutus – would have been impossible to imagine a decade earlier. Katase deserves Nobel Peace Prize consideration for her efforts.
The ice cream shop was also a first. Why not? Rwanda has cows and bees; it’s the country of milk and honey. At the time, ice cream was an exotic confection that most Rwandans only knew about by what they saw in the movies.
Katese asked Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, who run the Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, to come to Rwanda and help the women open a shop. They named it “Inzozi Nziza” (Sweet Dreams).
Other cultural turns of phrase equally delight. The women voted to replace the dreadfully pedestrian Western portion-size terms. Small and medium became“Baby” (Teta) and “Be Happy,” respectively. “Friend” (Nshuti) beat out “Don’t be Cheap” for large.
Many now question the ethics of unbridled capitalism scaled up to the level of multinational banks that are “too big to fail,” but as kindling for firing up nascent economic engines in places like Rwanda, it seems to work pretty well. Still, coming up with the $6 monthly co-op fees isn't easy for many of the women.
Lisa Fruchtman is best known for her editing. Credits include "Apocalypse Now" (1979), "The Godfather, Part III" (1990), "The Right Stuff" (1983) and "My Best Friend’s Wedding" (1997).
“Sweet Dreams” should be having a far wider release than it is. See it while you can.
See playdates and locations for “Sweet Dreams” HERE.
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