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Healing among the hills of Rwanda

By Laura Traister
On March 19, 2014

  • The Fall Communication Scholarship Showcase featured the Department of Communication’s level of activity and many emerging scholarly publications.

The most recent in a series of independent film screenings, "Finding Hillywood," gives viewers a glimpse into Rwanda's budding film industry.
The documentary, released last year, uses one man's personal encounter with filmmaking to relate the broader rise of Rwanda's own film industry.
About 40 people turned out to the Martha Street Culp Auditorium on Monday evening to view the film and to partake in a discussion with filmmaker Leah Warshawski.
The screening was part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, a tour that ETSU has been a part of for four years.
As the film opened, it offered basic information about Rwanda's recent history.
To understand the country it is imperative to know about the 1994 genocide.
The mass slaughter was driven by a conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. In the span of about 100 days, approximately 20 percent of the country's population was murdered.
With this historical backdrop, the film focuses on Ayuub Kasasa Mago, a Rwandan filmmaker. Mago was in Uganda during the genocide but his mother, like thousands of others, was brutally killed during the genocide.
After a period of descending into a destructive lifestyle, Mago found a reason to live through the love of his family and an interest in filmmaking.
He became involved with the Rwanda Cinema Centre and began working with other Rwandans to train locals in the art of filmmaking.
The Rwanda Film Festival, a tour around the country, was founded with the goal of sharing Rwandan films, made in the native language of Kinyarwanda, with rural communities.
The festival was dubbed "Hillywood," a tribute to the terrain that makes Rwanda known as the "land of a thousand hills."
Using a large inflatable screen, the festival workers show various Rwandan films to people with otherwise scant access to film.
The films are made by incredibly resourceful crew who must overcome challenges such as limited funding and equipment. Sometimes thousands of people, especially children, will gather and wait for hours before darkness falls and the show begins.
The festival is now in its 10th year.
After the screening of "Finding Hillywood," Warshawski answered audience questions.
She explained that the project began in 2007, when she and a colleague were working on another project and found out about Hillywood from local crew members.
"They told us about Hillywood and the idea of this inflatable screen in the middle of the jungle where 5,000 people come out and see a movie for most people is pretty intriguing, and for filmmakers especially it was very intriguing."
The film took six years to make.
Since its premiere, it was won several awards and continues to be screened at many film festivals.
When asked what kept her going during the long and challenging process of creating "Finding Hillywood," Warshawski revealed that community was at the heart of this film, just as it is the purpose behind Hillywood.
"I really love what I do ... Ayuub is part of our family now ... he keeps me going for this project. He's become a very good friend and part of our family and to tell his story and do his story justice is a huge responsibility that I feel, and I couldn't let him down, let alone everyone else who has donated money and time just to make this film happen."
She also praised the natural beauty of the country, saying "It was also one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life, and I've been to a lot of places and Rwanda was different and it still is. Every time we go back it's unique. There's something...about the dirt there, and every patch of dirt is gorgeous, and the light is perfect all day long, and I don't know many other places like that."

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