The Mindful Bard
The Movie Camera as an Instrument of Forgiveness and Peace
Volume 25 Issue 12 2017-03-24
Film: Finding Hillywood
Director: Leah Warshawski
"... yet another messenger came and said, ’Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’ At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ’Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’"
- Book of Job, 1, 18-21
"... it’s a paradox to not know the real effect of juxtaposing the videos that talk about the genocide and having three, four thousand young people in a stadium just next to a mass grave ... The more we understand them, the more we have a chance of moving on."
- Ayuub Kasasa Mago in Finding Hillywood
In 1994 in Rwanda, Hutu rebels, in response to a call from members of their own government, massacred between 500,000 and a million Tutsis, fellow citizens with whom they’d previously lived in peace. The survivors on both sides have since struggled to come to terms with the debilitating effects of this event and to recover from the terrible loss of murdered loved ones.
One very effective answer to such trauma is film—not just watching it, but making it. Using thrilling cinematography that makes good use of all the wonderful light and shade of African town and country, with a lot of movement and visually engaging subjects in every frame, Leah Warshawski manages to create euphoria in the viewer even while the viewer knows she’s going to hear about something horrendous. She tells the story of a Rwandan film institute determined to tell Rwanda’s stories to both Rwandans and to the rest of the world.
Ayuub Kasasa Mago, his name—appropriately—the Muslim version of the Bible’s "Job," struggled with drugs and alcohol in the wake of the violent murder of his mother and her Tutsi neighbors during the genocide. While fighting hard to return to normalcy and to resume his responsibilities as father to four young sons, he got an opportunity to work as a film location manager; the job opened his eyes to the power of film to disseminate information and to create change.
An expert told him that, as major an event as the Rwandan genocide was, the story could only reach the world through the medium of a feature film; press coverage was just not enough. So Ayuub decided to become a filmmaker. After getting some experience under his belt, he created the Kwetu Film Institute in Kigali and began mentoring other filmmakers.
Ayuub and his crew of students and assistants take the film festival on the road, dubbing their tour the "Hillywood Inflatable Cinema" (the name a play on the American film capital and the fact that parts of Rwanda are hilly). They bring villagers from across Rwanda, their own Denzel Washingtons, Jackie Chans, Angelina Jolies, and other Rwandans who tell their story—the Rwandan story—in a way impossible for Hollywood.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating; if making and watching films together can get people through something as terrible as the Rwandan genocide, then it must be an extremely powerful and effective tool. One can’t help wondering if other genocides and horrific civil conflicts could have been averted had the people been equipped with movie cameras.
Finding Hillywood is not so much a film about the Rwandan genocide as it is a story about a response to the pain it caused. It’s also about the significance of creative turning points, about that moment when you must decide whether or not to make that one life-changing decision. Many of us, including Ayuub, having launched off into the wild blue yonder in spite of our fears, find that doors start opening everywhere, and almost anything becomes possible.
Finding Hillywood manifests 10 of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.
• It’s authentic, original, and delightful;
• It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence;
• It harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda;
• It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor;
• It’s about attainment of the true self;
• It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation;
• It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering;
• It gives me tools of kindness, enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me;
• It renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; and
• It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.
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