Filming Shake Hands with the Devil
the adventures of a script girl on location in Rwanda
by JH Capraru
June 14 – 18 2006
The excitement and the trip don’t really start ‘til the plane lifts itself off from Heathrow Terminal 4, the one with the mostly unwhite people in it, and begins to climb away from the sunset and into the night. It chases its silhouette over the Balkans, the Bosphorus, then begins a slow slide south. As people try to roll themselves into sleep, the standard-issue requisite crying baby picks up her cue and begins to wail.
It’s the second night of “sleeping” on the plane. It’s 2:34am in London, 4:34am in Nairobi, and in Toronto - that time has been left kilometers behind. It’s whatever time it ever was anywhere and my internal body clock sits silent and wide-eyed in the corner hugging its knees to its chest. By now even the beautiful Air Kenya hostesses with their smooth skin look fatigued. At 37,000 feet, sleep reigns over the cabin. Outside the window, it’s -54 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blanketed by stars, sleeping Khartoum and Cairo and the Red Sea flow by, Addis Abeba - new flower in Ethiopian - and the Blue and White Nile roll up and away under us, turning on the earth’s orbit as we drift closer and closer towards the equator. Over the right wing the stars begin to shift and rearrange themselves into new constellations. They gather on the wing tip as the plane balances on the edge, until, with a sigh, we are pulled over the meridian and deep into the belly of the world. Africa. The continent stretches slyly beneath us like a huge grinning black cat. Africa. Again.
Lake Turkana flashes by turquoise as the insistent beauty of the African dawn demands my undivided attention. Soon it’s Nairobi airport, looking exactly the same as when I was here a year ago, and then, after a stiff-legged walk about the tarmac to retrieve luggage that didn’t make it on, flying again, to Rwanda. As the plane bumpily takes off a substantial amount of water sloshes out of the ceiling onto an impassive African lady and our second unit sound man, who leaps up as water hits him, his brand new computer, his brand new dv cam, his brand new stills cam. The pretty Rwandan stewardesses laugh. "This happens all the time." We fly over the immense blue of Lake Victoria and then over northern Rwanda, prehistoric volcanic fields smoking with geysers. Then below us roll thousands and thousands of green hills disapearing into every direction to the horizon, some dipped in mist. It looks as if every cubic centimeter is cultivated, here in the most densely populated country in Africa.
Upon arrival in Kigali, three hours late, we are met by Paule, our Québecoise production manager and one of the many Rwandan drivers, speaking impeccable French. As we drive down into the valleys of the circular roads of Kigaliville, images from 1994 newspapers, television, and the documentary on UN general Roméo Dallaire, surface on my retina and superimpose themselves onto the shimmering green landscape. Tanks and smoke, rebels, mortar bombs. Soldiers. Blood. Death with no dignity. The rebels won, and their leader Kagame rules like the military strategist he was born to be. The Rwandan reality is cruel. One of the poorest nations in Africa, there are 9 million souls here, with a life expectancy of 42. In this landlocked, agro-based society the main exports are coffee and tours to visit the elusive mountain gorillas, protected and peaceful up in their Parc National des Volcans. Not a single one was harmed during the genocide of 100 days when 1 million were killed by hand. 2,000 every 15 minutes bragged the Interahamwe, or “Those Who Fight Together” I know I will receive an education here, a rough one. But the central lesson which we all crave to learn – what happened to make what happened here even remotely possible – will likely remain unanswered.
Saturday night, out in a fleet of cabs to the Club Abraxix with assorted crew members, where the most excellent band plays everything from original tunes to Santana, and the vibe is super chill. Later, once we got past the solid line of beefcake of the eight foot bouncers in tuxedoes barring the door as they check for weapons, the heavy metal doors at Club Cadillac VIP swing open to reveal an entirely crazed and entirely blacklight nightclub plastered in screaming day glo and crammed to the rafters with a mass of gyrating black people all dressed in white clothing shaking it up big time to dancehall til 6 in the AM. When not playing pool (our young woman camera assistant, Beth, in mini skirt and heels, was en route to beating the owner of the club then wisely decided to let him win) revelers got extremely busy on the couches in full view of most of the club. Africans can get cozy. And they may have a different idea of personal space than you. Whose hand is that on your backside? He’s smiling at you, nonplussed and about 6’6”. Have another J&B and orange Fanta with no ice (don’t ask) and get back out there on the seething dance floor with the camera crew coz it’s Madonna coming atcha with Lucky Star. Yeah, it’s 80’s retro night. Every night. And it’s fun as hell in the land of the 1994 genocide.
Sunday evening. Settled into my lovely, empty in a Last Tango in Paris kind of way flat with the first unit script supervisor. Our obsessive-compulsive born-again maid Amahoro (Peace) has arranged our toiletries in facist-like lines, from tallest (the shampoo) to smallest (an earplug marks each as an exclamation point). Yes we all have a maid. I’ve never had one before but I'm happy she has work. Our view looks over a small lake and the endless rolling hills. Gospel music sung by children drifts in with the breeze through the sheer curtains. Like Dallaire said in his book, nobody told us how damned beautiful it was going to be. It is a beauty honed to a sharp edge by the events of 1994. At supper it's surreal to be eating decent Chinese with some of the art department on a patio on top of a hideously modern apartment building, warm hill breezes of Kigali caressing one. The largest and most prominent building, the Ministry of Defense, glows lime green sixteen stories below. Earlier today with our line producer Norman, watched a no goal game in the World Cup between Japan and Croatia at the legendary Chez Lando’s. The sun was warm and the Croats had nice uniforms, red and white 70’s retro. In the wake of the “war,” as it is now carefully referred to, I find an open spirit of acceptance in the people I meet who share their views and their country with us Canadians. There are no more Hutu and Tutsi now. “We are all Rwandan. And so are you, while you are among us.” At Chez Lando’s almost all of the family were massacred during the genocide, so the only remaining sister runs it now. The atmosphere is, apparently, not what it used to be. Tuesday we go to camera. First day of filming on Shake Hands with the Devil.
June 20 – 25 2006
DAY ONE OF SECOND UNIT
Up at 4am in the pitch black African dark for the trip out of Kigali into the country. Through the gates of our compound by the snoring armed guard. Into the jammed Novotel parking lot. First thing I see is a white United Nations land rover jeep, which we will practically live in as we ride all over northern Rwanda for the next five days. The next thing to be seen is chaos. Lots of it. Camera crew checking their equipment one mo' time, matatus (African collective taxis) trying to exit out onto the street – one has a back up signal like a crying baby which is shockingly effective - sleepy stand-ins wandering lost, a kind of craft truck, wardrobe women running with costumes flying behind them in plastic handing me Polaroids because they found out at the last minute they will not be coming, amused Rwandan drivers, the ever present Intersec security men in baseball caps, blue uniforms and Kalishnikovs over one shoulder, two paid duty officers - policeman the Rwandan government insists the production hire, Goliath, our 2nd unit grip and electric truck being loaded, sundry crew members. And our two AD’s, running, yelling, then whispering into cel phones in quietly hysterical tones. No call sheet.
I clutch my script book, check my stopwatch, and hop in with Kirsten, our English director, the DOP and the 1st AD. We’re off, headed north. Immediately Kirsten demands we stop, insisting that our location manager, Robin the white Kenyan dressed always in white, ride with us. No go. We continue and, as the sun begins to rise, the city melts away into waves of rolling misty green hills and red earth. Finally the entire unit are all on the right path. All walkies are silent now. We follow the singing road into the rising sun.
Nearing Ruhengeri, iron-rich volcanic earth surrounds us on every side, filled to the horizon with chai fields. Tea is one of the main Rwandan exports, along with coffee and tours to commune with the rare mountain gorillas. The tea fields are fresh and green, perfectly symmetrical, and filled with women, most with tiny babies strapped to their backs. Wives get two months off to have a baby, then it’s back to the fields. They pick tender shoots off the tops of the plants and load them into huge wicker baskets. The brilliant sun is, for the first time since I arrived here five days ago, strangely absent. Our mission is to shoot gorgeous 35mm beauty shots of the north, but banks of grey clouds moving in like huge erasers slowly rub that from the drawing board. The unit pulls into the Muhabura Hotel, where we check in, lower the mosquito nets, then spend the rest of the day in the UN jeep chasing the sun. After work it’s Guiness for me and the local beers, Primus or Mützig, for the others. Mützig tastes like Becks and is a relic left over from the German colonial past, who lost this jewel of German East Africa after WW1 in reparations to the Belgians. The Belgians are whom the Rwandans have to thank for deepening the division between Hutu and Tutsi, favouring the 15% of the Tutsis in power over 85% of the Hutu, and issuing identity cards with their tribe in 1932. Which came in handy when the lists of citizens to be knocked off in April 1994 were being drawn up.
Next morning, up before dawn for some fragrant Rwandan coffee. In the white UN jeep hop our monkey grip Séan from Newfoundland, with a grandfather born in County Cork, Cylvain our chill clapper loader from Montreal via Haiti, operator Ian from Halifax, already sunburnt, John DOP from California, our director Kirsten, Bexx a gem from England on camera - who will become my drinking buddy after the many scenes of genocide we will shoot, Tebby our incredible AD, and our cool hand luke of a focus puller Harper, 7 feet tall and Irish out of Toronto. We are getting to know one another, and this shoot in Rwanda's hills will bond us more. After shooting and driving through villages and countryside, in the hazy afternoon the jeep waits over a hill, away from the rest of the unit with its ever-present security guards. School’s out and a few children stop to stare, show off their English, or try to get something, anything, from us white folks. We must look like the mother of all Mzungus with our 50lb 35mm Ariflex camera and gear. Soon we are surrounded by jostling, laughing, extremely curious children, all in tattered blue uniforms, clutching ragged books, most in bare feet. At 10 deep on all sides, it’s about 60 kids. They are not shy and make eye contact easily. Their smiles and laughter shine. One rocks the van. Just a little. The others giggle, uncertain. They rock a little more. The thing that sends them screaming away is when one of us pulls out a camera. It becomes a game, to click their smiles, but the best game is when Harper gets them to count in English. All at once. 1! 2! 3! 4! They roar out each number in one huge voice with immense pride. English is where it’s at, these kids want to be part of the future, of the rest of the world. It's the language of MTV, of Hollywood, of freedom. They are not as keen on French, the tongue of the colonial oppressor, of their parents, of the catholic church.
The sun breaks finally and makes a dash for the next cloud. We chase it, the children chase us til the jeep heads up the next rise and their laughter fades into the curves of the road. After a long day of shooting all over this unbelievably beautiful landscape the tired crew sits in a teahouse high on a hill in the middle of a huge tea plantation. It is usually reserved for diplomats, and General Dallaire has stayed here. A splendid rooster awaits us nervously for dinner but we name it Dallaire and tell the cook Jerome we’ll stick with the perch he has prepared. Accompanied by a wood fire and a Mützig, we watch the sun drown over the string of seven volcanoes into the tangerine, violet and deep madder rose of the sunset. A low murmuring can be heard. It is the hills, speaking to one another.
“Happiness requires something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Swahilli proverb
On the Road with HillyWood in Rwanda
by JH Capraru
Day 1 Friday March 16 2007 Nyagatare
Unlike last summer when I was first came to Rwanda to work on Shake Hands with the Devil, the skies are now changeable and darken easily with storms. But at the RCC the sun shines brightly as we wait to be picked up and taken out into the hills . An old Mercedes driven by Jean Pierre arrives, and Eric Kabera director of the Rwanda Cinema Centre, Thierry our DOP, and I, who will give workshops at the centre, jump in.
After the first stop for water, the engine dies. It ain’t HillyWood til, without saying a word, you’ve all jumped out and pushed the car backwards to get it started. After a suitable amount of exertion, the engine growls to life. It’s an operation we’ll become adept at. “We had one before that was worse. At least this one’s a Mercedes” observes Eric dryly. During the drive he talks constantly on his cel, setting up the festival, cajoling favours; a producer par exellence in a stream of perfectly accented and smoothly mixed English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda. “Where are the invitations, the programs? Still at the printers? The festival starts in Kigali in five days. Haven’t we been planning this for like, six months or something?” He laughs. Not once do I see him lose his considerable cool.
After a long drive on dusty red roads we find ourselves way up in the north east corner of the map, near Akagera game park, and soon in Nyagatare. In this tiny village we’re of enourmous interest as we busy ourselves putting up posters, chatting with locals, and distributing flyers for tonight’s screening. Will these people really show up to watch a film in the middle of nowhere? But when we drive into the site, the crowd numbers more than a thousand. And over them, swaying gently in the breeze in an electric blue sky, towers the gleaming white inflatable screen. Powered by a small pump, it is completely incongruous in this rural setting. The air smells lush and green and the adults, and many children in tattered yellow school uniforms and bare feet, may never have seen TV, let alone a film. Let alone a film in their language talking about issues that belong to them here and now.
The DJ tickles the crowd with tunes as the MTN dancers bust one last round of moves. Then, as the sun turns to molten gold over the endless hills, the projectionist fires up the first film. I imagine the Lumière Brothers' maiden film feeling its way to the screen, as the power of the cinematic image asserts itself. A series of African animated shorts suddenly fill the darkness with colour and life. The audience roars, is riveted. Hey Mr. DJ interveaves romance, morals and AIDS, and again the crowd drink in the film with every pore. They scream with delight equally during sexual or violent moments.
During the third film, Scars of Days, the wind flirts with the screen in seductive gusts, inviting it to dance. They start slowly but soon build to a mad tango as the RCC crew run for the ropes while the screen strains, shimmies, tries to fly away. It takes a bow and folds in two while the film continues to project past it onto a stray cloud. I feel a drop, then another. A light rain is falling steadily and the screen is no calmer, but the crowd remains transfixed. “This is the fun part” observes Eric in his laconic way. In fact it’s a technical nightmare waiting to happen, understaffed, with many areas that might malfunction from sound, image, location, crowd control, to the generator. But in the six nights of HillyWood 2007 Edition, the show goes on every night. Much like the theatre, where my roots are. Or better yet, the circus.
The audience has been on their feet for four hours now. As the last film finishes, there is applause in the pouring rain as the crowd melts away into the night. As if they were never there. They carry with them these films, brought to the screen and out to the hills by fellow Rwandans. Stories of love, reconciliation, diversity. These are their stories, and they are at the core of these films, just as HillyWood is at the core of the festival. There is immense hunger for culture, like air or water. Art matters, it is not a luxury. The power of art as a tool for change is not something one reads about in a book, here at HillyWood the films impact directly on the people and raise awareness around issues that cut deep into the heart of contemporary Rwanda. These are the first films in their own language, Kinyarwanda. It is revolutionary.
Eric’s cel is quiet now. A kind of peace descends as the crew tears down and begins to pack up. The screen deflates obediently under an African crescent moon lying on her back in a sky crammed with stars. Tomorrow, Rwamagana
Sunday 18 Apr 2007
Memorial Week , Kigali, Rwanda
by JH Capraru
At the Petit Stade Amohoro - peace in Kinyarwanda - a woman screams. Her screams echo in frantic stereo as she moves from one end of the stadium to the other, screaming wordlessly over and over, unstoppable. A human barometer of the mood here in Kigali. Every spectator becomes hyper alert as her screams continue. The normally welcoming velvet air of the Rwandan night is heavy and oppressive this evening. Thick as ink, it writes the tale everyone in this country knows by heart. For the last two days, the city has stopped breathing. It is Içunamo, "la semaine de deuil" - the period of mourning. But on the screen it is 1994 again. Interehamwe militia, pangas and cigarettes dangling, march off to "work.” Unstoppable. Jean-Christophe Klotz's film, Kigali: Des Images Contre un Massacre filters through the static air and touches the screen with truth, with faces. So many faces.
It seems inconceivable that almost of them all have been erased in tides of blood. A few faces from onscreen sit in the front row, motionless. The survivors. And the others, are there any perpetrators here. Why would they come. Why have we come. To witness another film about the genocide, this week of April, thirteen years after this tiny central African republic turned and began to chew a piece of itself off. While the world noticed, then turned its back to the Balkans and OJ Simpson. The images speak for themselves. But the power of these images did not save anyone. They became a commodity, to be sold on TV. Now Klotz, by spending eight years making his film, has reclaimed them, and brought them back here to the people they belong to, to remind them, among other things, that some did care. Among them, a French journalist. The French are not beloved of the Rwandans, in fact they have been turfed out on their collective derrière, rhetoric, embassy, cultural centre et al. Still Klotz has returned to Rwanda to share his film.
On screen now, a door. Behind that door lives the Beast. Or the secret of the Beast, that which leaves only traces, bits of clothes, a dropped doll, the stench of terror in thick air. Like the air tonight, choking on memory, like us, breathing it in. That door. The one which is always shut. A grey metal rectangle with a handle that turns down, slightly rusted at the corners. Behind it are the killers, the Interahamwe; "Those Who Fight Together". Klotz offscreen watches Klotz onscreen, watches with us as we watch him and the camera watches the door, approaches, stops, wavers, is still. This is the moment the Beast loves. Hiding its infernal secret, it waits with infinite patience.
But the camera lens slides away. The edit brings us to a bed where a white man lies in white sheets and red blood. It is the filmmaker, shot in the hip. Evacuated to France, from the comfort of his hospital room he can watch his own footage of the children he filmed in the parish of Nyamirambo, then learn that they have all been murdered.
Afterwards, the questions from the audience want the semantic differences between the words massacre and genocide defined, they want to know where the filmmaker went to school and more than to know, they want to talk, not to ask questions but demand answers and make statements and then one realizes. This could go on all night. It is a snake eating its own tail. One man asks why the killers' faces are never seen in these films. Is it to protect their identities. Will they not let themselves to be filmed. Do the filmmakers deliberately avoid them. Why.
But the answer to that one is easy. The Beast is that which cannot be witnessed or recorded.
Or understood. Except, in that final moment, by those it kills.
It lies now over the Sudan. And within a heartbeat, will soon be on the move.