English movie director and screenwriter Michael Radford (L) poses with Rwanda Film Festival chairperson, Eric Kabera. (Courtesy)

English movie director and screenwriter Michael Radford (L) poses with Rwanda Film Festival chairperson, Eric Kabera. (Courtesy)

His two most famous early films were, The Madonna and The Volcano (1979), and Van Morrison in Ireland (1981).

He specialized in documentaries until 1983, when he switched to fiction by scripting and directing the WWII-era romance, Another Time, Another Place. He followed this up with an adaptation of George Orwell?s, Nineteen Eighty Four.

This was followed by White Mischief in 1987, but it was the success of II Postino seven years later that handed him his feature film breakthrough.

Radford is currently in the country for the 11th edition of the Rwanda Film Festival that kicked off on July 19 and closes today, July 31.

Moses Opobo caught up with him at one of the upcountry screenings in Gicumbi.

Excerpts;

How did you end up at the Rwanda Film Festival?

I was asked by the Motion Picture Academy of America, if I was interested in coming over here (Rwanda) to see what?s going on, write a dairy of what I?m doing, and hold some master classes and generally create a profile for the festival.

You realize that it?s important to all filmmakers around the world that new filmmakers are coming out of Rwanda and Africa. I had not heard of the Rwanda Film Festival before, and that?s a pity actually.

So I think what I?m going to do is make it more and more important in the minds of people around the world, because why shouldn?t people come to this fantastic country.

I believe that film is the best way for one to express their national identity.

What have you been up to since you arrived?

I haven?t really been anywhere outside Kigali except here in Gicumbi (today). I wanted to see the countryside a little, although I?m not here to be a tourist. I can?t see all the beauty of the country, but what I can do is enter the beauty of the souls of Rwandan people by talking to them.

I like to understand how people feel about things, so I spent a lot of time talking to young people at Kwetu Film Institute, which is very exciting and inspiring to me, knowing one day they will be a generation of film enthusiasts coming out of this country.

I?ve also been writing a diary for the membership of the academy (the people that vote for the Oscars), which is about 70,000-80,000 people.

I?ve been writing in my diary every day, just saying what my impressions are, and I?ll tell you what I?ve said: That Rwanda is a country where immediately you arrive; you know the place has a future.

You just feel it in the atmosphere. There?s enthusiasm and a certain desire to do something. In the old world like Europe, it?s not like that anymore.

I always put it like this: If you open a bookshop in London, another bookshop closes. If you open a bookshop in Rwanda, more people read.

What?s your experience with Rwandan films so far?

What I?ve noticed is that for the moment, the influence for most Rwandan filmmakers largely speaks to television.
I think that TV is not the best way for an artist to express themselves, because TV is a consumer market. It?s consumption, consumption, consumption!

To get into the heart and soul of how to express yourself, not just as an African but a Rwandan in Africa, I think film is more universal and being so, it brings a big interest in the country and I think it?s very important to develop it.

It?s also important because of what happened in this country in the recent past. To create a national identity is very difficult when you?ve just been through such a terrible period of civil strife.

The President has made it very important that everybody reconciles with each other, and that everybody is Rwandan above everything else, and I think that?s so important. Films are very, very useful in that regard. We know America because we know about American films, so why can?t we know about Rwanda from Hillywood?

What prospects do you envisage for the Rwanda Film Festival?

What I?m doing currently is trying to help the festival find financiers outside Rwanda. I?ve been advertising that regularly to members of the academy, saying look, instead of spending 50,000 USD on a car, why not put it into this place and see what happens?

I?m glad that a lot of people have already responded.

At an organizational level, stakeholders in the local film industry need to think seriously of a national film commission which can sell Rwanda?s scenery and infrastructure to filmmakers from around the world.

This place is safe and secure, and filmmakers like these kinds of things. A film school would also be good, because it builds technical capacity.

With all the people with IT knowledge in this country, Rwanda could build a Computer Generated Images (CGI) laboratory so that film crews that come down here for shooting can also do their post production in Rwanda.

Moses Opobo, The New Times

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