In IN THE NEWS on August 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm


In 2009, Cape Winelands Film Festival premiered Gilbert’s films Scars of My Days and Behind This Convent in South Africa. The festival offered a brilliant blend of films including the great Egyptian master, Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria… Why? and and a retrospective of the famous Portugese director Manoel de Oliveira.
Ndahayo’s debut film Scars of My Days premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2007 in the presence of an audience that included that included former US President Bill Clinton, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Hollywood celebrities namely Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg and Everybody Loves Raymond’s producer Jane Rosenthal (co-founder of Tribeca Film Fest). Scars of My Days won First Time Director’s Golden Impala at Amakula Film Festival (2006). Gilbert is a recipient of the 2008 Verona Award for Best African Feature Film, a Signis Commendation for Best African Documentary for Behind This Convent (2008). Rwanda: Beyond The Deadly Pit premiered in 2010 at Pan African film Festival in Los Angeles where it was nominated for Best African Documentary Feature and programmed in “Thought-Provoking Films” at the prestigious IDFA the same year.
Maine African Film Festival’s 2010 program included Gilbert Ndahayo’s debut short: Scars of My Days (30 min, 2006 – view trailer here) and Rwanda: Beyond The Deadly Pit (100 min, 2010 – view trailer here). Gilbert was in attendance for the screenings. Below is the first full interview that GhettoBlaster’s (GB) Caroline Losneck had with Gilbert Ndahayo (Gilbert’s rare picture on set in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda):
An Interview with Filmmaker Gilbert Ndahayo
By Caroline Losneck
As part of the Maine African Film Festival in Portland, Maine, GhettoBlaster’s (GB) Caroline Losneck was able to catch up with Rwandan filmmaker, Gilbert Ndahayo, who was there in support of two of his films: Scars of My Days(2006) and the documentary Rwanda: Beyond the Deadly Pit (2010).
Rwanda: Beyond the Deadly Pit was filmed over a period of three years and it had a world premier at the 2010 Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles, where it was nominated for Best Feature Documentary. The film is the story of the killings of Ndahayo’s parents during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the post-genocide realities in Rwanda.
Ndahayo is the first Rwandan genocide survivor to have made a film about his experience. The short fictional film, Scars of My Days tells the story of two young men who leave their rural village to go live in Kigali, the capital and largest city in Rwanda.
Ndahayo is currently a MFA candidate in the Film Division at Columbia University and is working on four new short films: A Day in the Life, a story about a genocide survivor and a Holocaust survivor living together in New York City (which he plans to screen in early 2011); Why Me, Why Sarah?, about a couple that is navigating their way through life and their relationship; Jojo Must Die (currently in post-production), a fictionalized version of Romeo and Juliet set in the first decade of post-genocide Rwanda, about social life between the former antagonistic groups Hutus and Tutsis (without machetes on screen) and the tensions that are caused by the stress of post-genocide life and ethnicity; and Mother Rwanda, a new film in development.
GB: If someone had told you when you were a young man growing up in Rwanda that you would someday be a filmmaker living in NYC, what would you have said to them? 

GN: (Laughs) Well, my mother wanted me to be a doctor or economist because African storytellers or filmmakers or artists don’t earn a lot of money in Africa. They die poor and unsung, unheard. My mother wouldn’t want me to die poor. I was forced to explore storytelling in cinema because something horrible has happened to me. I have been waiting for thirteen years to find an appropriate way to express how my parents were killed. In November 2005, I discovered cinema and I enjoy the process of making films. In no way would I have known that I would be in the United States and making films!
GB: How do you take a story that is so specific to a particular time and place and still allow for it to be something that people relate to?
GN: That’s a really good question. I am only interested in journeys of human realities that we don’t see on television, especially the dramas. Scars of My Days is about friendship, HIV/AIDS and urban migration. The main characters are two young people who leave the village and go to the city not knowing anything about being there and being confronted by the realities of being in a new place. I follow one of the friends as he struggles for his life. It’s a kind of adventure. In the first act, we discover their lives in a traditional African village where the idle youth play football and speak of their dreams; the second act of the film, they are separated by their different dreams. And then ultimately in the third act, the friends are connected back to each other.
GB: Do you relate to a certain character in the film, or place yourself in a certain character?
GN: I was born in a traditional village in the south part of Rwanda. My father was always absent because he was at school, studying law. When he came home after almost four years, we moved to the capital city. There was this specific moment in Scars of My Days when you see the two villagers arriving in the city, looking at the beauty. They are confused but they like that kind of lifestyle. I relate to this specific moment when I was in a truck looking up at the traffic lights, the nightlights, the tall buildings and following people’s movement. People wear shoes! In the village, there is no electricity. People don’t put on shoes. It is that specific moment that I can relate to in the film, of course with some more drama.
GB: What about your other film screening this week (Rwanda: Beyond the Deadly Pit)?
GN: As a survivor of genocide, I have a moral responsibility to the dead and to give time to remember the departed ones. Rwanda: Beyond the Deadly Pit is basically my contribution to the world because these are the moments that my country lived. They are the moments that I lived. My grandparents, my parents, and my young sister were killed in the genocide. Fifty-two members of my extended family were killed in the genocide and their families perished 16 years ago in broad daylight. Our neighbors showed up with machetes and proceeded to kill them. At that moment, sixteen years ago, I was a young boy. I can’t tell that I understood why we were being killed. Still today, I am struggling to overcome those kinds of realities. In the same way, there are people in the world who want to understand what is going on beyond their small gates and their small apartments and these are the people who I care about reaching with my films.
GB: What is your approach to story or narrative?
GN: With Rwanda: Beyond the Deadly Pit, I wanted to make a film that tells the reality that has not been told from inside, from somebody that survived the genocide. So, my first question before I started the film was “What can the world outside of us learn from us?” Beyond that, in my films I try to address questions like “how did I survive?” and “how did I move on?” I didn’t have a style, but I had a story and the story dictated my style. Hollywood tends to be interested in showing films that are entertaining to people and allow the filmmaker to make more money…which is a good thing for them. I think that African films are much more interested in reconciling people and events rather than punishing historical events or people. I’m sure American audiences are pretty much tired of the bad guys going to jail and the good guys who are rewarded and made heroes. So there is this space that exists today for people who want to see something different or tell something different and real.
GB: Even without these resolutions in your films and real life, are you hopeful? Are you optimistic?
GN: I am – that’s why I am here in Portland, at the Maine African Film Festival! And a month ago I was in Los Angeles showing the world premier of my film. There is a hope and a there is a space for everybody that has a story to tell. Being African or American doesn’t matter if what you have is a story to tell and allow us to show what you are coming up with on the screen.
GB: Are you well known in Rwanda? Do people recognize you there?
GN: (Laughs) I have a nickname in Rwanda. I am named after Denzel Washington because I have been an actor in two movies in the leading roles. My own films have also been shown around the country and in the villages. We actually have a festival in Rwanda called Hillywood and it’s not named after Hollywood. It is a concept of showing films in the hills of Rwanda where the films have been shot. There are not many TV sets in Rwanda. We have one TV station, which shows much of what BBC and CNN broadcast over and over. Hillywood brings a new culture, a new way of telling, seeing and hearing stories to the country. Rwandans like my films and I’m happy that my contribution to the new society, to the new Rwanda is known and acknowledged.
GB: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
GN: I’d like to recommend festivals and events like the Maine African Film Festival, which gives African filmmakers space to show their films. There are so many people here in America who have not heard about Africa, that do not know anything about Africa, or the genocide in Rwanda. What can people outside of Africa learn from inside Africa? Being here gives me the opportunity to tell a story from a Rwandan or an African perspective and from my own perspective, rather than the usual Hollywood story or the flash news on CNN or BBC. And this is who we are. We are storytellers, either Africans or Europeans or Americans.

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