Documentaries are great for telling an audience what life is like in far-flung corners of the world, but well-done feature films are better for actually showing people how life is lived in these places. This is the triumph of Munyurangabo, a narrative film by first-time director Lee Isaac Chung that focuses on the attempted normalization of life in Rwanda a few years after the 1994 genocide.
Starring and supported by amateur Rwandan actors and crew-including the two stars, who were both affected by the genocide as young children-the film follows Sangwa as he returns to his rural family home from the capital Kigali with his friend Munyurangabo. The problem is that Sangwa is a Hutu and Munyu is Tutsi, a fact that’s much more troublesome in a small village than the big city. The two embark on a mission to find the man who killed Munyu’s father, but end up getting caught up in the life of Sangwa’s village. In so doing, we are treated to a slice of realistic life for subsistence coffee farmers who live in bright red brick homes, work various chores throughout the day, and get drunk off sorghum beer. Throw in some serious poetry, domestic violence, AIDS, and feelings of hate between villagers and Munyu, and the film presents an accurate picture of a small segment of life in modern Rwanda, where old wounds struggle to heal.
And the Rwandans have accepted the film as a testament to their current predicament, in part because it’s in their language. “In Rwanda, we have only received support and encouragement from Rwandans who have seen it, and I have been humbled by the response,” said director Chung last week. “Many have claimed that it is very Rwandan, and there hasn’t been any criticism of the film. : It’s tremendously cathartic for me. I can’t articulate why.”
Munyurangabo screens at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, July 17, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com for screening details.