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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Rwandans flock to 'Hillywood' films
By Abby d'Arcy Hughes
BBC News, Kigali

Crowd at Nyagatare
Few Rwandans have access to TV or films
It's a rather unusual spot to launch a film festival.

Nyagatare is a rural and dusty town in the east of Rwanda. But this month it played host to the bright lights of Rwandan film talent.

As the sun drops behind one of Rwanda's iconic hills, a giant, inflatable screen staggers into the air. This is "Hillywood", Rwanda's very own travelling film festival.

Rwanda is a stunning country in all senses of the word. As is the idea of having a film festival here. And the name Hillywood reflects on both the beauty of Rwanda itself and on the aspirations of its young filmmakers.

It may be one of the poorest and one of the smallest countries in the world, but Rwanda has big ideas.

Hillywood is a film festival on a shoe-string. Out of next to nothing, a small group of Rwandan filmmakers toured seven provinces of Rwanda screening films every evening under the stars.

Rare treat

There is only one cinema in Rwanda and it is in the capital, Kigali. So the filmmakers hopped on a couple of buses and took the cinema to the people.

Life goes at a relatively slow pace in Rwanda. But when Hillywood rolled into town, people were running to get to the stadiums early.

It's a rare treat for people here in the countryside to see films on the big screen.

"Most Rwandans don't even have access to television or any medium of the mass media," says Eric Kabera, the festival's organiser.

This was the first time I saw a film in our local language, Kinyarwanda
Agnes Niyokwizerwa

More importantly these are homemade films. Rwanda has welcomed numerous foreign productions companies over the years. But Rwandan film culture itself has failed to take root.

But at Hillywood the films are made by Rwandan directors and producers, filmed in Rwanda and are in the local language, Kinyarwanda.

Topping the bill was the film, Hey, Mr DJ! It's about an arrogant, young DJ who finds out he is HIV positive. The film has charm and a twist of comedy. But most importantly the crowd love it.

Film-maker Gilbert Ndahayo
Film-maker Gilbert Ndahayo says his movie has healed him

"It was very exciting," Agnes Niyokwizerwa told me. "This was the first time I saw a film in our local language, Kinyarwanda. This is really important for the people who don't speak another language.

In the attractive, crumbling lake-side town of Gisenyi the crowds simply refused to leave.

"We ran out of all the films to screen," says the Hillywood coordinator, Ayuubu Kasasa. "They insisted that until we leave they are not going to leave. We just couldn't offer them any more."

Afterwards, kids crowded round, eager to find out how they could get into Rwandan film or how to get some camera training. The world of film was suddenly within arm's reach.

Ask Rwandan kids what films they like and the names Rambo and Jackie Chan trip off the tongue.

Kids follow festival truck
Rwandan children are excited by their local film industry

It was international productions about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, like Hotel Rwanda, which really put Rwanda back on the map for the rest of the world.

That is what also inspired budding young Rwandan filmmakers to give film a go themselves.

A lot of the Rwandan filmmakers at the festival started out working with foreign productions. But when HBO's trolleys and cranes disappeared, so did the money. And filmmakers here now struggle to get their stories told.

Kennedy Mazimpaka is an actor and has worked on a couple of the big, foreign productions. He strongly believes that Rwanda is up to the challenge.

Right now we need anything that can develop Rwanda. So why not a film industry
Actor Kennedy Mazimpaka

"We're not going to keep on lagging behind because we had a genocide," he says.

"We need to go forward. Right now we need anything that can develop Rwanda. So why not a film industry?"

Rwandan filmmakers also have a lot more stories they want to tell. "Rwanda has suffered a lot. I have suffered a lot. I want to express it," says Gilbert Ndahayo.

His film, Behind This Convent, screened in the capital Kigali. It is set 12 years after genocide in the courtyard behind his parents' house. Both his parents and sister were murdered in there.

"The making of this film was a really hard thing to do," he said. "But I used it to try to heal myself."

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