I have heard the question before "Why do we need yet another film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide?"
Why do we need to hear the words?
Why do we need to see the images?
Why must we relive the tragedy once again?
Finding Hillywood, co-directed by Leah Warshawski and Chris Towey, is not actually about the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives within the stunningly short span of approximately 100 days but is unquestionably inspired by a country wanting to claim their healing and hope, present and future. In the years since the genocide, we have seen films ranging from Hotel Rwanda to last year's Heartland Film Festival favorite Rising With Ashes to this film, Finding Hillywood, a film that may very well be fueled by the aftermath of the genocide but far more than that a film that celebrates Rwanda, its people, and the power of film to heal individuals and communities.
In the years since the genocide, the nation of Rwanda and its creative souls have given birth to a fundamental yet inspiring film industry. This homegrown film industry is glorious because it is truly Rwandans making films for and about Rwandans. In turn, these Rwandan filmmakers are paying it forward by teaching others to be filmmakers and, as a result, film is reaching out into rural communities where portable equipment is making it possible for film to become a major event. Many of the films are, indeed, about the after-effects of the 1994 genocide and the deeply personal and communal ways in which healing is needed. These films speak of healing and hope and forgiveness and, in ways big and small, Finding Hillywood captures these films and filmmakers and stories and journeys.
For those of us in the United States, it is perhaps difficult to understand the electricity and excitement that runs throughout Finding Hillywood, an excitement borne out of young filmmakers learning a craft and having a way to express themselves. Finding Hillywood captures the innocence and wonder of young children so excited to watch a film that they will sit outside in a rainstorm.
Even now, the memory of watching this all unfold leaves me teary at the thought of these people and how film has helped to transform their lives.
Finding Hillywood has proven to be mighty successful on the film festival circuit including its popular run during Indy's Heartland Film Festival. The film has also captured prizes at Montreal International Black Film Festival and Napa Valley Film Festival along with having appearances in several other fests.
A good amount of attention in the film is given to Ayuub Kasasa Mago, a Rwandan filmmaker whose mother was killed during the genocide and whose death caused him to go into a deep depression. Due to some degree of self-blame, he ended up in a mental hospital before a relative helped him realize how much he had to live for and, as you may very well guess, he became involved with film after he first became a location assistant for the remarkable Forest Whitaker film The Last King of Scotland. He is now a coordinator for a program called Hillywood, one of many fine examples of the burgeoning film industry in Rwanda.
For more information on Finding Hillywood, visit the film's website linked to in the credits and, without question, check the film out for yourself when you get a chance.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic