ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

SFIFF52: “My Neighbor, My Killer” award-winning filmmaker Anne Aghion’s unflinching look at Rwanda 15 years after, signs of hope and healing

It has now been 15 years since the tragic genocide in Rwanda which in 100 days claimed an estimated 800,000 Tutsi lives at the hands of Hutu power, demonstrating again how swiftly humanity can betray itself.  I lost two dear friends in that war, one is dead and the other was so haunted by the experience of reporting the genocide that he had a breakdown.  Why should we here in the Bay Area look back at that horrific event now?  We should look because war is a great teacher.   We should look because it continues to be a controversial event because of the apparent indifference of the international community to the plight of the Tutsi.   The San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23- May 7 gives us an opportunity to explore genocide and war crimes through the eyes of two seasoned filmmakers Anne Aghion and Pamela Yates whose documentary feature films “My Neighbor My Killer” and “The Reckoning” are both Golden Gate Award Documentary contenders.  Both filmmakers will be attending the festival and participating in post-screening discussions.

“My Neighbor, My Killer” is a hold review film, which means I am limited in what I can say about it here because it is pending U.S. distribution, but I strongly encourage you to go see the film.  Last year, the Rwandan government decided to clear its genocide caseload and according to some reports more than a million cases were adjudicated as some 12,000 “gacaca” or open-air community courts for genocide were convened across the country.  The idea behind these gacaca (ga-CHA-cha) which literally means “justice on the grass,” which were announced in 2001 and ended this year, was to allow for the truth to come out so that the nation could heal itself.  As part of this experiment in reconciliation, confessed genocide killers are sent home from prison, while traumatized survivors are asked to forgive them so that they can resume living side-by-side.  Through the emotional catharsis of letting flow what has remained hidden deep inside, individuals and society can move forward, collectively healing the psychosis which has gripped Rwanda.

Aghion’s film, her fourth since 2002 on Rwandan genocide, focuses on the proceedings in a village and through live footage and interviews shows the impact on the women there who are involved in confronting the men who slaughtered their husbands and children.  The emotions run the gamut but what is remarkable is the capacity for forgiveness that emerges from the hurt and bitterness and the modicum of release and dignity this offers.   

Rwanda lost about 10 per cent of its population through the 1994 genocide, but its population growth rapidly recovered due to a birth rate that is currently resting at about 5.25 children per woman.  That means that about 42 per cent of Rwandans were born after the genocide and have no direct memory of the slaughter but everyone has relatives who were murdered.  Since 1994, the Rwandan government has imposed a moratorium on teaching about the event, reasoning that the manipulation of history fuelled the genocide and there would be no education until there was consensus on how to teach it.   In this context then, the “gacaca” or community courts for genocide offer an important means of education and offer some form of closure for victims and perpetrators.  The gacaca courts are not presided by professional magistrates, but by people of high esteem in the community.  Recent news reports stemming from the flood of trials this year, indicate that the process has been problematic.  In March 2009, for example, one of the judges of a Kigali gacaca was himself accused of complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in 1994, but was later acquitted on appeal.   Other reports indicate that known perpetrators changed their names, relocated and have been operating successful businesses under the protection of complicit officials.

Resources abound on Rwanda but Philip Gourevitch’s “The Life After”  in this week’s New Yorker is excellent, as is the magazine’s podcast “Rwanda in Recovery.”   JUSTWATCH, The International Justice Watch Discussion List is an excellent online searchable forum which captures daily international news coverage of international war crimes tribunals for Rwanda (and ex-Yugoslavia) as well lively discussion of related issues including the conflicts which gave rise to the tribunals, the International Criminal Court, international humanitarian law (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes), and other armed conflicts and humanitarian emergencies.

“My Neighbor, My Killer” screens:  Wed April 29, 9:00 pm, Thurs April 30, 4:15 pm, Fri May 1, 3:45 pm, all at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.   

“The Reckoning” screens: Sun May 3, 5:30 pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Tues May 5, 6:00 pm at PFA, Wed May 6, 6:15 pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

April 29, 2009 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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