INTERVIEW BY ISEDEHI AIGBOGUN
Eric Kabera is a Rwandan journalist, filmmaker, founder of the Kwetu Film Institute, director of the Rwanda Film Festival and president of Rwanda Cinema Center. As a filmmaker, his works includes the feature film, Africa United, Keepers of Memory, Through my Eyes and 100 Days: a feature film recounting the days ensuing the start of Rwanda’s genocide. Eric has been recognized by the Director’s Guild of America; and is the 2012 recipient of the Pan-African Film Festival’s prestigious African Creative Visionary Award (Los Angeles). Recently, he was honored by the Pan-African Film Consortium with a Gold Label award, a recognition given to outstanding filmmakers on the continent. The AFC blog's Isedehi Aigbogun had an interesting chat with him.
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC KABERA
Isd: Your first film after the Rwanda Genocide, 100 days, speaks volumes about your outlook on life at the time. Could you please shed some light on it? Also, did making this movie help you overcome any form of inner battles?
Eric Kabera: My films have always resonated with my surrounding and the history of our country. I don't have to search for further creativity, but humbly represent the reality from the inspiration on the ground. It is part of my life, family history and also observation of the society I live in. Rwanda has a special space into mankind's history and the journey of the nation and us recording this path has endowed us with so much experience, respect and exposure.
Hence the need for us to train the next generation of young filmmakers, the journey has been tough but a very rewarding one.
Isd: You used actual Tutsi and Hutu people rather than real trained actors. Were there any challenges with their conformance with acting skills? What was the experience like?
Eric Kabera: With the Kwetu film institute, our space has become a place of the creative minds. These are young men and women who are defining the new identity rather than being looked at as Hutu and Tutsi. The making of 100 days was an amazing experience; actors had never been on set before, but their natural acting made the film so powerful and unique.
Isd: Apart from training young filmmakers, do they (the filmmakers) seem to possess any form of skill that could evolve the film industry in future, in a way you aren't able to for now?
Eric Kabera: Yes, they are now defined filmmakers and professionals in the industry, some days ago, we had a get-together with the ones we trained about 10 years ago and the evolution has been tremendous. Some have gone on and become International film makers: Kivu Ruhorahoza now in London making films and showing them at Tribeca, Sundance and other places; others are top videographers and also set up initiatives…. We are now having the federation of film makers, and also a few individual activities that are gradually helping to shape the new film industry. The government has pledged support to the film federation. Things may evolve positively despite the current challenges.
Isd: This is quite encouraging, and somehow keeps my mind resonated on something: Hotel Rwanda is a relatively big budget movie about this same Rwandan genocide. What are your views about it? The story, script and locations.
Eric Kabera: Hotel Rwanda is a good movie by itself and the director is a huge talent, I helped the production of the film, as well as most of the films that came after 100 days, the producers always contacted me and I always offered my help and advice.
On Hotel Rwanda, the film story took into account the narrative of a hotel manager who was labeled as the hero of the genocide against the Tutsi; that bothered many survivors, knowing that this Paul Rusesabagina made himself a hero beyond the simple fact that he was in the hotel, making business, but none can’t deny that he may have helped some people, but was not a hero as shown in the film. But hey, this is drama in cinema; it always needs some exaggeration here and there. And bearing in mind that Hollywood was behind the story, this made sense that survivors felt alienated.
After Schindler's list Steven Spielberg had to create the Shoah foundation to record all survivors account before they are departed. A project we try to emulate and push forward to continue to do the recording, but again, due to limited funds, this cannot be accomplished as of yet. Thanks
Isd: This is quite impressive, and I'm captivated that you're this versatile concerning film. Which makes me wonder. Do you come around Nollywood films much often? Seeing that they are the African pride in terms of world recognition of quantity of movies produced yearly? What relationship do you have with its practitioners?
Eric Kabera: I have been introduced to Nigerian film makers such as Newton Aduaka, Tunde Kelani, and now the new generation of Nollywood producers such as Andy Boyo, and others. We are continuing to be exposed and engage with Nollywood and my presence at AFRIFF this year would even open up things.
Isd: Everyone has their weaknesses. Would you like to talk about your Filmmakers Achilles Heel, or you're one that enjoys every challenge thrown at him? Surely, there must be something you do not enjoy about filmmaking. Yes?
Eric Kabera: Great. My weakness! I try to fill all gaps, into this industry, from producing to directing and become an entrepreneur, not easy as it takes away my creative energy!
I enjoy the challenge but sometimes it can be too much, running the film school and many other travels can be quite overwhelming when we don't have enough resources, but hey, the spirit of Rwanda kicks in and we get things done through the vision of this country’s leadership. We have to deliver despite the challenges.
Isd: As a filmmaker, has there been any scripts that you had to work with which made the producing, directing and all other duties you take on easier? What's your take on the importance of the screenplay?
Eric Kabera: The screenplay is the bedrock of movie making. My story concept and script was put into a screenplay for Africa United the movie. I love directing and producing is my main occupation as well. I am not an editor since I am busy, producing. Thanks
Isd: Do you read reviews of your movies?
Eric Kabera: Yes! I do, you can find them online.
Isd: Which do you prefer to read, and why? I'm of the school of thought that negative reviews help one understand more clearly one’s shortcomings. Or are you the type that loves to bask in the euphoria of positivity all the way?
Eric Kabera: No, negative reviews can revamp and give one more adrenaline to improve and face challenges positively! I enjoy reading history books! The latest I am reading is on history of Africa! Titled: Africa Fortunes. I am not into the euphoria of positivity alone! Challenges are what make us strong!
Isd: I hear there are filmmakers who detest any form of criticism. Even when it's clear it is constructive criticism. Do you know of any? And if so, do you say or do anything to help change their POV?
Eric Kabera: Yes, many of them out there, all of us can have Ego, can't be the one to give lesson, we just have to strive to look at things both ways!
Isd: This has been an enlightening experience with you. Is there anything you'd like to tip in? Or have I been exhaustive enough in my questioning?
Eric Kabera: No worry! The investment into African art and cinema is almost inexistent and that can be painful since this industry does require plenty of energy.
Isd: Do you have any suggestions as to how this can be battled?
Eric Kabera: Our governments and business community need to own the path of telling our stories and share our culture rather the usual aspects of consuming western culture.
Isd: Hopefully, they'll take our own creatives more seriously in the nearest future.
Eric Kabera: They need to be supported, not they just doing it by themselves! Film is forever and I wish all knew it! I am sitting here with the son of Bo Widerberg, Martin Widerberg, whose father changed the style of cinema and he is now introducing some classes to my students at the Institute, he has the rights to all his father's memory…how can we own our history, culture and also propel it to the next level? This is my idea and dream to leave behind as a legacy!
Isd: It was a pleasure meeting with you, Mr Eric. I do hope to meet you soon again?
Eric Kabera: Yes, see you soon.