Wednesday 15 June 2016

Interview with Annette Uwizeye

Annette Uwizeye is a Rwandan filmmaker, who lives in the capital city, Kigali. She has made several short films and commercials, and is currently producing a feature film called Uwera.
    For the benefit of many of our readers, Rwanda, once known as German East Africa, is a land-locked nation, surrounded by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). The country gained independence from Belgium in 1962.
    With a population of almost 12 million, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. 43% are under 15 years of age. 56% are Roman Catholics. 
    Rwanda experienced a genocide in 1994, which left somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people dead in a mere three months.

Map of Rwanda
*  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born to exiled Rwandan parents living in Kenya, and returned to Rwanda as a teenager. Later, I moved to South Africa and spent most of my formative years there.

*  Tell us something about your family? Are you a member of Tutsi or Hutu communities?

My grandparents were part of the 1959 Refugee exodus to countries neighboring Rwanda. In the late '70s my parents, just like many young exiled Rwandans, left Uganda and moved to Kenya in search of greener pastures. My parents met and married in Kenya.

Women drummers perform at the annual KigaliUP music festival.
I would be identified as a Tutsi, but in Rwanda today, I am simply a ‘Munyarwanda’ or a Rwandan. I am part of the larger community, where identity, race or gender is by no means a reason for segregation. Historically Rwandans were divided along ethnic lines, and other types of divisions were promoted to take away some people's liberties and to exploit the majority of the citizens. This culminated to the gruesome executions that the world recognizes as the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Currently though I must say how proud I am of being a Rwandan. It is a country of resilient people where the once-exploited are reclaiming their dignity.

*  I’ve seen a couple of versions of your name. [Annette Uwera / Uwizeye ] Can you explain them for me.

Annette Uwizeye is my professional name. Uwera is my middle name, and that reminds me to fix my email name to match.

*  What schooling have you received?

I majored in Screen Writing at Film School at Tshwane University of Technlogy
the former Pretoria Film School in South Africa, which was founded by Jamie Uys, best known for The Gods Must Be Crazy. He died in 1986, way before I started to appreciate the craft of filmmaking.

*  How many people in Rwanda speak English?

I have no idea, but you will find a fairly good number of Rwandans speaking English. The majority will be more comfortable in French, and even more in the local language

*  When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

Long story, but on the day of Pope John Paul II’s funeral (in 2005), I was watching Hotel Rwanda (2004), and somewhere between those two events I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker. Two years later I got into Film School.

    Storytelling has always been with and within me. My mom and dad are great story tellers, very humorous and this sets the tone for a very animated dinner table at my house. So I guess I got the bug from them and decided to turn that into a full time career.

*  In 1994, somewhere between 500,000 and one million people were killed in Rwanda. How did that event affect you and your family?

In 1959 there was an exodus of Tutsis
fleeing persecution to neighboring countries. Some, however, remained in Rwanda, and for almost forty years our families were divided. Many of those who had chosen to remain in Rwanda were murdered in 1994.
    My family returned to Rwanda in 1999, but I had to leave for university just as soon as we had settled in Kigali in 2000.
    Like many returnees, all I have are the stories of cousins, aunts and uncles that I never met. It is sad to have family and friends that have their whole history wiped away with hardly any photos or reminders of their families to share. I am humbled by the strength of the survivors.

*  Is Rwanda today a safe place to be? (Most Australians only know the scary headlines from years ago.) Do you ever feel threatened as you go about your daily life?

I feel safer in Rwanda than I did elsewhere in the world. I have lived in Kenya, in South Africa, and have traveled in the USA. I am not just saying that. People feel safe here: it is not odd to have people casually strolling in the city past midnight.

*  What impact did the massacre have on filmmaking in Rwanda?

Just like the post-holocaust era, there has been a string of genocide-related films such as Sometimes in April, Shooting Dogs, Hotel Rwanda, Shake Hands with the Devil, Kinyarwanda, to name a few. These are important films in that they pass on the message of what poisonous ideology can do to a society. 

*  Who is the person who has had the biggest influence on you?

My Father, Patrick Uwizeye, a manager at MTN
a telecom company in Rwanda. He is extremely focused and I often wonder if I could possibly be his daughter. He has come from a very far place where, like so many former Refugees, he had to struggle to get an education. When he succeeded, he made sure my siblings and I had the best education he could afford. I forever aspire to be just like him and at least accomplish half of what he has achieved.

*  What was your first job in filmmaking?

My first job was directing and producing a short documentary/testimony by Hannah Pick-Goslar about her childhood friend Anne Frank. This was for the Johannesburg Holocaust Center. My team was made up of film school students and pulled off a very professional job that did this great story justice.

Children reading at the new Kigali National Library.
*  Can you earn a living making TV Commercials, or do you have a day job?

It is difficult to get a steady stream of income from Producing TV Commercials, but that should change as soon as next year, when a number of TV stations will be starting. I recently founded a Production House called A WIZE Films that will allow me and our partners to produce independent African films, as well as content for TV and New Media. We are working on including a distribution system into the business model. We are yet to begin full-on marketing. My dream is to get each one of the 12 million Rwandans to see our films.

*  What African films can you recommend?

Na Wewe (Burundi), District 9 (South Africa) and Pumzi (Kenya). I am inspired to make films like these. 
    Na Wewe (2010) is a short film. It tells the story of Burundi, whose history is dotted by the same tragic divisionism ideology that was applied in Rwanda. It is told light-heartedly, and cleverly speaks volumes about half a century’s worth of history in nineteen minutes.
District 9 (2009) has so many layers of social commentary about the South African social fabric, but ingeniously woven in the form of science fiction. Who would have ever thought of an Alien ship landing in Africa? Those things just seem to be drawn to the USA (thank God!).
Pumzi (2009) is another short film, extremely innovative in terms of its stylistic delivery, another science fiction film that speaks tons about an impending global water crisis that we must all be aware of.
Ankole cattle graze outside a traditional village.
Kindly allow me to self-promote. Uwera is a film that A_WIZE Films is working on and hope to have it released mid-2013.
    Uwera is a character-titled film about a girl that has the opportunity to go to University. Having been raised in rural cattle-keeping province of Rwanda, she now has to fit in a more cosmopolitan environment and her old values are challenged. She is a woman of surprising talents that the world is yet to discover.
Rwandan 1,000 franc note.
Previously, cattle were used as money.
    Audiences should expect to experience a side of Rwanda that is little-known, filled with color and music.

*  Have you seen any Australian movies?

Yes! If I say Australia (2008), the film, will I get gunned down? 

    It is a Hollywood studio film many would argue, but it is a beautiful Aussie story that made its way to African cinemas, so that counts, right? 

[ Not gunned down, no. It's a beautifully-made film, but one that divides Australians, due to the numerous factual errors it contains.

The only Australian productions anyone I know will talk about are the day-time soapies: Home and Away, and Neighbours. (I know they don’t count as films.) A friend just recommended that I watch Chopper (2000). Any recommendations?

[ A few you might like include: Babe (1995), Breaker Morant (1980), Cosi (1985), Crackerjack (2002), Crocodile Dundee (1986), Gettin’ Square (2003), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Paperback Hero (1998), Shine (1996), Strictly Ballroom (1992), and The Man From Snowy River (1982). ]

*  What one book would you recommend to a young wannabe screenwriter in Rwanda?

Can I name three?
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, is a must-have.
  • Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a classic. The Alchemist inspired me to find my own true North, and in fact got me thinking about switching careers from Finance to Filmmaking!
  • Ohhhh, and not to forget, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. This book is needed to open up the mind and heart.

*  Name ten of your all-time favorite movies.

In no particular order... 

Agaciro is a short film made by Annette Uwizeye.
This short film highlights what the Rwanda-African traditional value of Agaciro is, and it encourages individuals to dig a little deeper into who they are, how they describe Agaciro in their community and country.

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First posted: 31 August 2012

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