Every once in awhile, I come across a story that forces me to stop and look closely at just how selfish and naive I can be. I was in my friend Jody's kitchen a couple of years ago when the small group of us began to discuss the Rwandan genocide. Well, I should say - they began to discuss it. I had nothing to contribute because, at 24 years old, I had never heard the entire story (if any of it). Sure, I knew that Rwanda was kind of an important topic; I'd heard it mentioned more than once. But sadly, that is as far as it went. So by the end of our conversation I had expressed enough suprise (and shock, and tears) and asked enough "really?" questions, that Jody offered to lend me one of the books she had just read. I was nervous to read about it - after what I'd just heard in conversation, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to sort through even more details - but I quickly shushed the voice of my hesitation; all I had to do was read about it.
To "sum up" this story of the Rwandan genocide is pretty impossible, but here are a couple of quick points to get you thinking:
Death toll: 1,174,000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute)
To Americanize that statistic: imagine three 9/11's every day for three months.
The book Jody lent me was written by a woman named Immaculee Ilibagiza, called "Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust." It is one thing to hear a story told third hand by a friend at her kitchen table; it is another thing entirely to read a first hand account of the same story. This book and Immaculee's story sat heavily in my chest; and still sits there whenever I let myself think about it. The emotional journey of a story like this one is pretty significant, to say the least. The things that happened were horrific, shocking, devastating, and sickening. I felt responsible: why didn't I know!? and after that, why didn't anyone tell me!? More than anything, though, I felt completely helpless and angry: why didn't we do anything??
Transition: Hope Rises
Pain is not trivialized by the beauty the inevitably comes after it, no more than the dirt stops existing once a flower grows - but rather, the focus of the stories change. They end differently and are told differently, as time passes and hope takes root. We see beauty from pain, instead of just the pain. Immaculee's story of hope is not the only one to come out of Rwanda. There have been countless books, songs, and stories about these beautiful, resiliant people. Today, I am going to highlight one of them.
Introduction: What is Hope Rises?
"Rwanda: Hope Rises is a documentary exploring how Rwanda is healing in the years following the genocide. It's a story of a scarred nation's restoration and healing, and their struggle towards a hopeful future. When genocide explodes in 1994, Nicholas, a Hutu, must discover how to protect his wife Elsie, a Tutsi, from the murderous Hutu militias. Elsie assumes a false identity, and the two begin a dangerous journey to flee the country. When they finally cross into neighbouring Congo, Nicholas and Elsie discover their journey has only just begun. After such evil, how can Hutu and Tutsi forgive one another? How can a nation heal? How can husband and wife face their past, forgive, and rebuild their family?" (1)
Introduction: Who is Trevor Meier?
Trevor Meier is the director/producer of this documentary. A few months back, Trevor contacted me and asked that I share Hope Rises with my readers. I immediately said yes, but struggled to find the words to say (and the time to devote an appropriate amount of attention to a project so wonderful). Instead of just writing my own thoughts on this piece, I thought it would be better to go straight to the source. What follows is an interview with Trevor; you can hear first hand why this project was started, filmed & finished.
Trevor! I know there’s lots of info on the website, but I’d love to hear a bit more in your own words – how did you get involved with this project? Why? Who started it?
The project started when a friend of mine (Richard Taylor) returned from a trip to Rwanda. He and another friend from university met Nicholas and Elsie in Rwanda and were inspired by their story. They founded a non-profit to help get their vision for quality education off the ground in Rwanda, and Richard – naturally – was hitting up all of his friends for money :) I didn't really have much to offer financially (we were all fresh out of university), but I thought the story would make a great film.
Four friends (myself, Lyn & Jesse Rosten, and Chris Davies) got together and agreed to work together on making a film. I'd been to Africa a few times by this point filming other projects, so I felt like I had a handle on what was needed. I was completely wrong, of course, but we gave it a go anyway. The four of us went to Rwanda for the first time in April 2005. We filmed over 20 interviews and shot a lot of b-roll, and brought the footage home to attempt to sort out what we'd come away with.
I wish I knew then what I know now, but that's how it all started. We did a total of three filming trips over three years, and created a story out of it that I think is a good testament to the courage and spirit of the people in Rwanda. Everyone in the film is Rwandan, telling their own story of what it was like during and after the genocide, what it's been like to forgive and the whole process of building a new life after such a tragedy.
What was it like to work on this film?
It was really inspiring to work on, and more so as time has gone on. These people – Nicholas and Elsie especially – have been through so much. For them to be willing to relive those moments for us is an honour. The courage and determination they showed through the events of the genocide, and their willingness to forgive and attempt to reconcile is really inspiring to me.
What do you hope to accomplish, now that the film is done?
That's a big question for me right now... I think in the big picture I feel that empathy for "the other" – people who have a different life experience than us – is one of the most important elements of being a global citizen. I would hope that people watching the film would get a sense of camaraderie with the Rwandans in the film and feel a sense of co-ownership of their story - not in the sense of living through the events, but in feeling more like neighbours than looking through a looking-glass at "those Africans over there." What went on in Rwanda is a result of the kind of belligerent ignorance we see on our own continent, when tempers flare and others aren't willing to respond with grace to another person's perspective. I'm not saying we're at risk of genocide, but our lack of empathic action makes us complicit in Rwanda's genocide, and the genocides happening now in Darfur and the Congo. So I guess my hope is that viewers would feel a connection to Elsie, Nicholas, and the others in the film in a way that opens up the world to them.
I often ask myself "But...what can I do?" when it comes to tragedy on a grand scale. Truthfully, I think this is something I will always be asking. Instead of taking a defeatist's approach, however, the tone of my question is changing; it's gone from a helpless shrug to a challenge I'd like to meet. Thankfully, there are people like Richard, Trevor, Lyn, Jesse & Chris to show us by their own example what knowledge, acknowledgement, and action can do. These people are leading by example - perhaps we should all do the same?
The DVD can be ordered from the official site: http://www.hoperisesfilm.com/
**Important Note from the creators**
Rwanda: Hope Rises - Film Screenings
Rwanda: Hope Rises is available for public screening. We have specially-formatted DVDs that are licensed and formatted for large-screen presentation, as well as various HD formats. If you would like to host a screening, please contact us.
Please note that the DVD for sale on this website is for home-use only. If you would like to hold a screening outside of your home, please get in touch.