INTERVIEW by TIMOTHY BROWNE |PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of GACACA FILMS
Anne Aghion is an award- winning filmmaker whose documentaries, including the recent “My Neighbor, my Killer” and “In Rwanda We Say… The Family That Does Not Speak Dies,” which chronicle the course of Rwanda’s post-genocide healing. She is currently involved in starting up the Iriba Center, which will act as a repository for film, audio and other media helping reclaim Rwanda’s history. I talked to Ms. Aghion from Paris two days before she left for Rwanda.
For Daily BR!NK’s readers, what is the Iriba Center?
As a filmmaker, I’ve been working in Rwanda for over ten years now. I made four films there, focusing on justice and social reconstruction. I’ve shown my films in prisons and other similar venues in Rwanda, and I realized the huge impact they had on people – so I thought I needed use this strength and do more.
Over the course of the 10 years I also accumulated about 350 hours of unique footage. About a year ago, at Cannes, I was talking about it with a friend of mine, Rithy Panh, a Cambodian filmmaker who survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia. He said: “Why don’t you come check out what I’ve done in Cambodia.” So last July, I cracked some Frequent Flyer miles and off we went, my Rwandan colleague, Assumpta, and I. We were extremely impressed by Bophana, the archive center that Rithy and his wife had created there. So we decided it would be just perfect to replicate at least part of the model in Kigali. The Iriba Center is going to be a place where people can come and look at the audio/ visual history of their country, for free. Photographs, songs, music, film clips, radio clips, stuff like that – which is really important in a country where people don’t read. It will be housed in a building that the French Embassy in Kigali pledged to us. Iriba, by the way, means “the Source”, or “the Well” in Kinyarwanda. The sort of place you return to in order to quench your thirst – of knowledge and history, in this case. I think it sums it up pretty well!
Where do you see the Iriba center evolving over the next few years?
There will be two components to the center: the Kigali component, which is the building, and then there will be some mobile units that go around the country in the more disenfranchised rural areas. My guess is that it is going to take a few years to get to cruising speed, and that’s going to be a time where there will be training involved, in archiving, preservation, database management. It’s also going to be a time where we gather documents from all over. We’ve already started doing that, a little bit. The documents will come from all sorts of places, in Europe, in Belgium, which is the former colonial power, and France and Germany, and maybe the Catholic Church where there are historical documents that are relevant. In Rwanda, there are also documents that are available. A lot of religious missions there that have a lot of them, that are sort of hidden! And eventually, what we hope will happen, is that people will come to us and say, “Look, I have this, would you take it?”
It has a lot to do with giving people their history back.
Exactly, allowing people to reconnect in a very simple, all-encompassing sort of way. When I was in Cambodia, it was actually the time of the verdict of the first trial of the Extraordinary Courts of Cambodia (set up to prosecute senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge). And what was really nice to see was that a lot of foreign journalists and researchers went through the Bophana Center to get access to documents that nobody else had. But most of all, alongside these people who came from all over the world, there was this street kid who, we were told, came back every day to look at film clips and other newsreels. And I thought that was really cool.
A lot of your movies have to do with the Gacaca process in Rwanda. Could you explain to our readers what that means?
I first went to Rwanda twelve years ago, because I met several Rwandans who told me about the Gacaca, which are these participatory courts that the Rwandan government decided to put into place to try the crime of genocide. Close to a million and a half cases were tried through the Gacaca, and this is a country of about eleven million people. When I first met these Rwandans who told me about the Gacaca, I immediately thought: “That’s a film.” It was sort of a click, you know? The Gacaca are pretty much over, so the films are really about how people learn to live together again after such a cataclysm as the genocide. The idea is that people come together and find, locally, in these courts around the country, a narrative they can agree on regarding what happened and come together in that way.
Do you see the Iriba Center as continuing the dialogue of that narrative the Gacaca started?
Yes, though I think it would be out of proportion to say that, since (The Gacaca) was a huge governmental project and, as I said, over a million and a half people were tried. We’re a building with six or eight screening stations that people can access. But all things relative, the mobile programs we hope to put in place are going to be about modestly trying to continue the dialogue. You have to imagine, people in Rwanda live side by side in a very densely populated country, and they don’t really talk a lot on a daily basis. Having an excuse, finding things to talk about, it’s really important.
In that spirit, how can Daily BR!NK readers support the Iriba Center?
Well, lots of ways! We’re going to need networking, we’re also going to need equipment…you name it, we’ll take it! [laughs]
Since the interview was conducted, Anne was able to fundraise $40,000 on Kickstarter. We can confidently assess that the Iraba Center will successfully get off the ground and improve social reconstruction in Rwanda.