As a commemoration period begins today on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, here’s an inspiring story about a country whose film industry we don’t often hear about. U.S. filmmaker Leah Warshawski has helped to create a free online resource to streamline producing films in Rwanda. The outreach project, RwandaFilm.org, was built in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, nonprofit network Bpeace, and the Rwandan government to connect local filmmakers with one another and with job opportunities. Warshawski embarked on the project after making her documentary, Finding Hillywood (see trailer below). Focused on the pioneers of Rwanda’s film industry, it won the Documentary Feature Audience Award at the Napa Valley Film Festival last November. It previously premiered at the Seattle Film Festival. I caught up with Warshawski recently from Idaho, where Finding Hillywood was playing the Sun Valley Film Festival. She explained that she’d been in Rwanda in 2007 on another project and was told about the Rwandan Film Festival, which brings movies to large audiences around the country on inflatable screens, and how “thousands of people stand in a stadium” to watch them. Warshawski, who has done crew work on TV series including Lost and Survivor and features Along Came Polly and He’s Just Not That Into You, said it was “intriguing enough to make a movie about” and that led in to starting RwandaFilm.org.
Hillywood gets its name thanks to Rwanda’s moniker as the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” and movies that have shot there include 1988’s Gorillas In The Mist; 100 Days, produced by Rwanda Film Fest founder Eric Kabera; 2004’s Hotel Rwanda; 2005’s Beyond The Gates; 2007’s Shake Hands With The Devil; 2012 award-winning documentary Rising From Ashes; and HBO Emmy nominee Sometimes In April. As for filmmaking by locals, Rwanda is unlikely to become Nollywood anytime soon, but is creating a boutique industry with more movies traveling to festivals. The first feature film written, directed and produced by a Rwandan, Grey Matter, won a Special Jury Mention in Tribeca in 2011. (more…)