Geneva Anderson digs into art

The strong sex: two very different films screen today at the Mill Valley Film Festival about women who survived against all odds

“Sweet Dreams,” a documentary by Lisa Fruchtman and her brother Rob Fruchtman, tells of Rwandan women, Tutsi and Hutu, who survived the 1994 genocide and now drum side by side in the country’s first female drum troupe. They have also started the first ice cream venture in Rwanda.

Now in its 6th day, the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival continues its excellent programming. A lot of the films have sold out.  Here are two films screening today (Tuesday) for which tickets are still available.

Sweet Dreams: Though the 100 days of killing that claimed an estimated 800,000 Rwandans ended 18 years ago, the genocide left the East African country paralyzed.  Thousands of women were also raped and thousands more left without family.  If ever there was need of healing, it was in Rwanda.  Lisa and Rob Fruchtman’s  Sweet Dreams (2012) tells the story of a remarkable group of Rwandan women survivors who decided to learn how to be happy through drumming and, of all sweet things, ice cream.  

Lisa Fruchtman, a Berkeley-based veteran film editor with features such as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part III under her belt, and an Academy Award for The Right Stuff,  travelled to Rwanda 4 times to document the story of Tutsi and Hutu women coming together to form the country’s first female drum-troupe.  She worked with her brother, producer/director Rob Fruchtman to direct, produce and edit the film.  Forbidden to even touch a drum in ancient times, the talented Rwandan women take to drumming with joyous fervor that not only helps heal their own wounds but profoundly touches others.  At the same time, in an equally bold move toward economic security, the women join forces with an American woman and entrepreneur to open an ice cream business and bring something brand new to Rwanda.  The venture is fraught with snafus along the way but these women keep their faith and have a song for everything.   This INSPIRATIONAL and humorous documentary is beautifully filmed and had Sunday’s enthusiastic audience in tears.  Filmmakers will be in attendance and available for audience Q & A after the screening. (Screens Tuesday, October 9, 7:30 PM, Rafael 3)

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Marina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel. Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

The Wall (Die Wand):  Austrian director Julian Roman Pölsler’s film is based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1962 dystopian hit novel of the same name (about to be re-printed in English later this year).  The film stars German actress Martina Gedeck from the brilliant 2006 Stassi thriller The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and tells the story of a completely ordinary middle-aged woman (Gedeck) who is vacationing with friends in a remote mountain hunting lodge.  Her friends go out to a pub and she stays back with the dog and when they don’t come back, she makes a very creepy discovery.  She is imprisoned on the mountainside by an invisible wall, behind which there seems to be no life.  She appears to be the sole remaining human on earth, along with the dog (a red hound that will steal your heart), a cat, some kittens, and a cow, with which she forms a tight-knit family.  

The film rests entirely on Gedeck’s shoulders and she is riveting, delivering a very credible performance that will leave you shivering and running home to snuggle with your dog.  The odd beauty of this film is that this last survivor scenario may be your own romanticized idea of heaven, or hell.  Who among us hasn’t said “Fuck the world! I’m sick of people…give me just my dog!  Watching Gedeck bide her time laboring hard, protecting her pack, and introspectively processing her life, leads us to right into her moments of intensely felt angst, terror, joy and sorrow.  (Screens Tuesday, October 9, 9:30 PM, Sequoia 1)

 The festival’s homepage is here and there are three ways to purchase tickets:

Online: To purchase tickets for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full schedule is online here. When you find a film you would like to see, click “buy tickets” to put the tickets in your cart. You can continue browsing, or click “check out” to complete your order. Tickets purchased online incur a $1.50 processing fee per order.

Tickets you have purchased online are available for pick-up at the Mill Valley Film Festival Box Office(s). Seating is guaranteed until 15 minutes prior to screening. No late seating.

In-Person at pre-festival Box Offices:

1104 Fourth Street, San Rafael 94901
Sept. 11– 15, 4:00pm–8:00pm (CFI Members)
Sept. 16: 10am – 7pm
Sept. 17 – Oct. 3: Weekdays 4:00pm – 8:00pm, Weekends 2pm – 8:00pm
Opening Night, Oct. 4: 2:00pm – 11:00pm
Festival Hours, Oct. 5 – 14: Weekdays 3:00 – 10:00pm, Weekends 10:30am – 10:00pm
Note: Monday (10/8) & Friday (10/12) are weekend hours

ROOM Art Gallery
86 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley 94941
Sept. 16: 10am – 2pm
Sept. 17 – Oct. 2: 11:00am – 4:00pm
85 Throckmorton, Mill Valley 94941
Oct. 3: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Oct.4: 2:00pm – 11:00pm
Oct. 5 – 14: Weekdays 3:00pm – 10:00pm, Weekends 10:30am – 10:00pm
Note: Monday (10/8) & Friday (10/12) are weekend hours

BY PHONE: toll free at 877.874.6833
NOTE: If you have trouble purchasing online and cannot purchase tickets in person, leave a message on box office voicemail: 877.874.6833.
All orders placed over the phone are subject to a charge of $10.00 per transaction. Tickets delivered via mail (USPS) incur a $3.50 convenience fee.

RUSH Tickets: If seats are available, tickets will be sold at the door beginning at 15 minutes prior to screening. Those tickets are cash only. No discounts.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Film Society review: “Munyurangabo” Lee Isaac Chung explores Rwanda’s Lost Generation, screens Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco, June 12-18, 2009

Sangwa and Munyurangabo from Lee Isaac Chung's "Munyurangabo."  Image courtesy of Film Movement.

Sangwa and Munyurangabo from Lee Isaac Chung's "Munyurangabo." Image courtesy of Film Movement.

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.   As abstract and distant as that event may have seemed to outsiders, the pain has lingered in Rwandan society and the young children who suffered the traumatic massacre of parents, relatives and friends are now young adults and are still grappling with issues of loss, vengeance and healing.      “Munyurangabo” is a compelling feature film that follows two Rwandan young men– roommates and best friends—one Hutu and one Tutsi– who are part of that lost generation as they set out on a journey with a ominous mission of retribution that quickly turns into much more for each of them.   The fact that the film was co-written and directed by Korean-American Lee Isaac Chung, who must have been a youth himself when the genocide occurred and that it was shot on location in less than two weeks with non-professional actors makes it all the more intriguing.  It is also the first narrative feature in the Kinyarwanda language, a Bantu language which is spoken primarily in Rawnda but also in Southern Uganda and in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The story opens in a bustling open market in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, as Munyurangabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) steals a large blood stained machete from a vendor and hides it away in his backpack.  He later meets up with Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) who has spent their hard-earned money, that was earmarked for bus tickets, to buy himself a colorful shirt, forcing the boys to hitchhike and walk.   The story unfolds slowly in bits and pieces and parallels the slowness of life that is a reality in Rwandan villages where families labor all day at their small plots and at attending to the very basic necessities of life.  As the boys make their way along the roads and dirt paths of rural Uganda, we are struck by the land’s lush and fertile beauty and at the same time aware that these may have been killing fields.   While their final destination is not revealed, the boys intend to make a brief stopover in Sangwa’s village, which he left three years ago for undisclosed reasons. 

Sangwa’s homecoming is the story on the surface.  His mother greets him with unconditional love, cuddling him and feeding him with a spoon and delights in his gift of fabric and soap.  His father (Jean Marie Vianney Nkurikiyinka) cannot contain the flurry of emotion bombarding him and lectures Sangwa sternly about abandoning his family and about the meaning of honor and responsibility.   Later, he forgives Sangwa and praises him lovingly for his work repairing a foundation wall of their mud hut. 

As happy as Sangwa’s parents are to be reunited with their son, old wounds start to fester when they learn that Munyurangabo is a Tutsi.  As his parents instruct him to abandon his trip and to remain in the village and to build a life with them, we can’t help but wonder how they acted during the massacre.  Were they at all complicit with the Hutus who carried out the killings?   This element of doubt is critical to our understanding of the gyrations that Rwandan society went through as friends, families and neighbors turned on each other.  As Munyurangabo is treated more and more as an unwelcome guest, we feel for him and sense his volatility.  He is triggered by the negative vibes coming from Sangwa’s family and equally by the deep love between Sangwa’s family which causes him to mourn his parents, both dead, all the more. 

After very real and raw awkwardness and avoidance, Sangwa tells Munyurangabo that he has doubts about their journey and about accompanying Munyurangabo to find and to kill the Hutu man who murdered his father.   What unfolds is a remarkably real and intimate story, stark and penetrating.  Edouard B. Uwayo’s poetry is masterfully used as a backdrop, conveying what is not said, what cannot be said by these characters who are forced to become men before our eyes. 

Resources abound on Rwanda but Philip Gourevitch’s “The Life After”  in the May 4, 2009 New Yorker is excellent, as is the magazine’s podcast “Rwanda in Recovery.”   JUSTWATCH, The International Justice Watch Discussion List is an 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 and international humanitarian law (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes).  

“Munyurangabo shows June 12-18, 2009 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, San Francisco.  Screens at 2:15 pm, 4:40 pm, 7:10 pm, 9:25 pm.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment