Anne Aghion is a New York-based documentary filmmaker whose films Gacaca, Living Together in Rwanda and In Rwanda, We Say ‘The Family That Does Not Speak Dies’ were supported by Sundance Institute Documentary Film Grants. Along with social scientist Assumpta Mugiraneza, she is using Kickstarter to fund the Iriba Center for Multimedia Heritage in Rwanda.
Growing up as the daughter of a man who survived the deportation of French Jews, I spent many afternoons (and evenings) cutting classes and crying in front of movies—not just Holocaust films, but any films—in the Paris Cinémathèque. Even though I was 35 when I actually started making my own films, these formative years were crucial for me, not just as a filmmaker, but as a citizen.
I was first attracted to Rwanda as a way to feel the pain that my father's generation had lived. As if the genocide that this country had endured, and the efforts that Rwandans made to rebuild, could be a pathway to similar emotions from decades prior on another continent. I never imagined I would spend more than 10 years there making four films. But the strength of emotion, intelligence, and dignity with which Rwandans I met in the rural areas express the burdens of their past, their future, and that of their children, is one of the reasons that have kept me coming back.
Eventually my films were made, the Gacaca (the citizen-based courts on which I had focused) came to a close, and people around me were urging me to move on. But I couldn’t. I decided that it wasn’t enough and that my work as a filmmaker could go further – even if it meant diverting a bit from strict filmmaking.
I could do more. I had seen the impact that the screening of my films—especially My Neighbor My Killer—had on Rwandans, whether they were genocide perpetrators in prison yards, women in survivor groups, or communities gathered around mobile screens. I had seen how it enabled people who neither read nor write to have access to their present history in another way. I had seen how it creates space for an alternate dialogue. And as I worked with Assumpta Mugiraneza, a Rwandan social scientist and the translator of my films, I saw how the knowledge of a history that dates back well before the genocide was key to ascertaining the reconciliation process.
So we decided to make it happen, to use the strong belief we have in the power of films, but also music and pictures, to create Iriba Center, a multimedia center that will gather more than a century of media archives and make it free and accessible to all.
What the little girl in me who grew up watching films and skipping school really wishes, is for Iriba Center to be a kind of "Cinémathèque"—a place where people of all stripes, Rwandans and foreigners, will gather and learn about their world and their own history through images and sounds. They will see films and photographs, hear music and radio clips. Hopefully it will give them clues about their past and enable them to look at the world ahead and embrace the future with less fear. And perhaps some of them will start to make films when they turn 35...
But how can we make this happen? We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign that allows anyone to be part of this great adventure by supporting us through contributions with great incentives. Choosing a globally inclusive funding method for a project that aims to foster reconciliation and dialogue is more than a great way to kick-start an important project. So please, come join us at our Kickstarter page and encourage your friends and families to do so too. From Assumpta and I, thank you.