Single Rwandan / Celib Rwandais by/de Jacqueline Kalimunda analyse/analysis by/par
In partnership with Africultures. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson. En partenariat avec Africultures. Traduction en anglais par Beti Ellerson.
While 2014 revived the international media interest in Rwanda, 20 years after the genocide of the country’s Tutsi population, filmmaker Jacqueline Kalimunda prepares for the 2015 release of a documentary, book, and web platform on "love in Rwanda". In a country where hatred reached the paroxysm of horror in 1994, a subject theoretically “ordinary" is nonetheless a profound inquiry. A broadcast is scheduled for June on TV5 Monde and Courrier International, in particular.
With Single Rwandan, about the search for love in Rwanda twenty years after the genocide, Rwandan writer, director and film producer Jacqueline Kalimunda broaches a turning point in transmedia. Single Rwandan / Celib Rwandais, "a documentary with many voices, on multiple screens, tells a story that is not talked about—romantic relationships, and the advent of a new generation that is more comfortable meeting on social media than on the street." The project is organised simultaneously around a documentary film, a web documentary, an art installation and a book. First, the documentary film recounts the everyday situations of a flower shop in the heart of Kigali, a location chosen as an allegory of Rwandan society, oscillating between the search for love and the fascination with death. The filming began on Valentine Day 2014 and continued during the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in April of that same year. The project also includes an art installation "for an engagement with Rwanda from within" and a book, A Rwanda Lover’s Guide, which "traces the itinerary in the form of a traveller’s guide". Finally, the web documentary is designed as an inviting, interactive website which allows one to "meet the Rwandans filmed in their environment speaking about their quest for love."
New technologies and "reappropriation of the self-image"
Jacqueline Kalimunda proposes a new approach to Africa: "Africans often complain that the Western media speaks only of disease and poverty. Well this project, which will be seen throughout the world, has the opportunity to present a new image, that is modern, beautiful and moving."
Indeed, Josef Gugler (1) identifies two major and opposing tendencies: the documentary, which in journalistic fashion reflects the violence plaguing the African continent and, on the contrary, the documentaries often made for television, of the National Geographic type, which paint a picture of exotic natural beauty and of "ethnographic curiosities": landscapes, animals and people, all of which contribute to the construction of an imagined continent. Both trends spread stereotypical representations, the projected image through the eyes of others, of an Africa between savagery and with an "extra touch of soul". Eschewing these images of colonial films to current representations of Africa, African filmmakers aim to appropriate the images, techniques and the media in which they work, in the sense of a subjective representation of the social realities that surround them.
Digital technology facilitates this appropriation process in the creation of a self-image, in the sense that the general media adaptability that it engenders reinforces the expression of new subjectivities and contributes to the archiving of daily life. At least, the idea often advanced by filmmakers and critics of African cinema is that the digital is a tool that facilitates the authentic expression of self, as it allows the development of popular arts, which are produced and consumed by a logic of "cultural proximity", hence, according to the logic of globalisation, these creations inscribe themselves simultaneously within a globalised culture.
By talking about love, Jacqueline Kalimunda intends to question the history of Rwanda and its relationship with others, however, with well-defined references, she inscribes this questioning within a cinematic perspective: "The French New Wave brought a new freedom in the making of films—exterior shooting, freer acting, natural lighting. To film the actual characters of Single Rwandan, who were selected mostly from Internet photographs in which they constructed their own image, I was inspired by the work of the directors of the New Wave with their actors Jeanne Moreau in Lift to the Scaffold, Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Breathless, but also Gus Van Sant in his experimental trilogy, Michael Pitt in Last Days, in Elephant. By spending time with our characters, allowing them to become accustomed to the camera and the crew, we let them play with the camera, engage in a cinematic game with their image that uses both the benefits of a documentary-style cinema and also the techniques that they developed themselves over the Internet. Rwanda, my culture of origin, is now strongly influenced by cinema culture. This approach provides me the possibility to propose a project that I believe reshapes, in a profound way, the usual approach on Rwanda".
Through her interest in individual stories, she seeks above all "to bring people closer together", to emphasize the allegorical potential of the human experience, what we have in common, what we have to share: hence, this anthropological questioning about love and death: "the flower shop, a business that alternates between the celebration of marriage and the commemoration of death, is it not a striking transposition of Rwanda, so beautiful and so morbid?"
The testimony between archive and performance
The testimony that is heard is not solely in the sense of a confirmation but in the sense of a self-writing that complicates the relationship between self-awareness and self-image, between the transmission of a lived experience and the construction of self, between genuine presentation and self-performativity. This involves a critical questioning of the relationship between the self and the other, on the practices of negotiating these relationships, which are in constant flux, always in process.
The transmedia practices of testimony involves the consignment of oral archiving which nevertheless, through internal procedures remains open and non-static—by choosing the interview format, it is the performative dimension of witnessing which is put forward, and through external modalities—since these stories are intended to be part of a chain of testimonies potentially producing other testimonial practices.
These testimony-films enter into a complexity of witnessing (legal evidence / literature / theatre / commemoration ceremonies...) which lies between archive and performance, ultimately between the duty of a fixed memory (experiencing inactivity) and a working memory as a dynamic and open process. This tension between fixity and mutation is perceived in the testimony since it tends at the same time toward conservation and archiving as input (collection of evidence), but also toward performance as a multiform and unfinished corpus.
Playing on the effects of the proliferation of opinions and their arguments, testimony can be understood as a collaborative construction, in process, as performance and archive. With the current growth of Rwandan cinema, one finds such processes at work: archiving of daily life, building a common imagination, reflections on memory and resilience. Beyond the disclosure of extreme situations, the directors of these films aim to also shed light on the capacity to cope of those who suffer.
Hence, in the films made in Rwanda, we assist in a process of reappropriation of voice by the witness who undertakes to move from passive voice - being filmed - to the active voice: in the films, self-expression becomes direct, from within, controlled by the witnesses themselves, posing among other things the question of managing memory and of resilience. In this sense these films also contribute to the construction of an archive, the archive that is linked to repetition and signification, and as Dominique Maingueneau points out, "The very act of conservation, the possibility that the text has been fixed in some way or another, depends on its status and determines the way it circulates".
Interactivity / subjectivity / testimony
The relationship between art and technique should be sought, according to Pietro Montani, precisely where "the globalized technical apparatus, that coincides today more than ever with a machine that produces images of its own legitimacy, which seems to offer original and specific spaces to the exercise of documentation and critical reflection, of deconstruction and testimony."
Through the resources at the disposal of new technologies this testimonial instance discovers the versatility of digital devices and the multiple opportunities of the Internet, whose aim is to serve as a permanent archive and a potentially unlimited public space - a way to deconstruct the self-legitimisation process and give testimony to the rights of the other (victims, ethnic and political minorities, cultural diversity...).
If it is possible to relativize the enthusiasm for the "digital revolution" and the opening of new opportunities, particularly in terms of access to visibility, it is to the extent that what was already likely to be seen is finally visible on the Internet. The fact remains that indeed, the filming capabilities offered by the new technologies permit the proliferation of subjective expressions that are part of what might be called an "archiving of the everyday".
In this proliferation of subjectivities, the "re-appropriation of the self-image" uncovers the possibility of an exciting renewal: self-images are formed within the tension between this proliferation, this eruption of identities and communal space. Which is to say, that self-images, as they aim for the creation of models, reflect both what is unique about us and what we have in common.
In the project Single Rwandan, interactivity is considered fundamental because the user may also contribute based on a recollection or a personal story, and hence, enriches the archive, which is an on-going process. Jacqueline Kalimunda indicates here that part of her work as an auteur is to "encourage the public to participate in the project" by offering personal stories, memories, and feedback, in order "to contribute to the creation of a collective memory of love in Rwanda".
The objective to construct an oeuvre with many voices, according to the specific logic of the testimonial, was already at work in Homeland, in 2006, where ten years after the genocide, the filmmaker filmed her journey in the footsteps of her father, reported missing at the time. The film takes the form of a personal quest punctuated by encounters with survivors that the director interviews. Thus the presence of Jacqueline Kalimunda in the film is both to listen to others and of introspection; responding to history, her open, progressive approach draws on personal questions and also on the voices of witnesses. It is also a film that questions the repetition of history, of tragic events. The director traces the history of Rwanda by drawing a parallel with the experiences of her mother, who was twenty years old during the first violent events of the years 1960-1963; hence underscoring that in each generation massacres occurred. The film remained open with the hope that the third generation could get out of this cycle of violence.
By returning to this line of questioning regarding the future of the new generation posed at the end of Homeland, Single Rwandan is thus inscribed in a temporal continuity.
In the long term this inscribing seems to me essential to the work of Jacqueline Kalimunda, to me it seems to open in-depth questions on the issue of otherness, the construction of self in its relationship to the other.
Indeed, for Jacqueline Kalimunda the central question around which revolves the project Single Rwandan is this: "In the era of new technologies in a society that is just emerging from genocide, how does one love in Rwanda today? How does one recreate the bond of love, the momentum toward the other, which is common to all humanity?". A question that is possible to reveal through several approaches.
How does one love in a post-genocide society where ties with families and lovers have been destroyed, or the social fabric has been disordered, or where hate and othering discourse have led to a process of alienation and to the construction of a radical otherness in the eyes of the other?
Scholastique Mukasonga shows in her first book, Inyenzi or the Cockroaches, that the survivor who has experienced a separation from humanity—characteristic of the intentions of acts of genocide—has the experience of "other", a stranger to oneself, disoriented and disconnected, unable to recognize oneself through this disfigurement and this radical alteration. The narrator recalls her unexpected success (because of ethnic quotas) on the national secondary school entrance examination and her high school education at Notre Dame de Citeaux in Kigali. She experiences the "humiliation and rejection", from her double position as Tutsi and Inyenzi: the Tutsis in Nyamata, who were "cooped up outside of a habitable Rwanda, perhaps even outside of the human race," p. 77. She tries to determine the nature of the feelings that her Hutu classmates have for her, "distrust, contempt or hatred" questions that highlight the power of propaganda and brainwashing experienced by both sides, and the processes of dehumanization at work.
Love and otherness
The urgency of rebuilding a "national identity" and the political fervour that left its mark on the reconciliation process and a strong call for unity led to some shortcuts: reinforcing it in order to eradicate the logic of radical and destructive otherness. To only authorise this same thought, is to produce a dangerous economy of thought in a positive otherness. That is where I think the project of Jacqueline Kalimunda is of crucial importance: by inscribing the thought of otherness within a diachronic perspective and centring reflection on the question of love as an acceptance of difference, the director gives us the means to think in a profound way about the relationship between self and other, to think of "oneself as another."
In his Praise of Love, Alain Badiou, encourages the continuation of the notion of positive otherness, which embraces a difference that is nurturing. Alain Badiou sees love as a "construction of truth" because the life of a couple, the confrontation with the thoughts of the other, allows a reflection on the world from the standpoint of difference and not of identity: "Love is an existential proposition: to construct a world from a decentred point of view as it relates to my simple instinct of survival or of my best interest."
Conversely, Alain Badiou takes a position of defence; according to him, love must be safeguarded against the threat of a society focused on consumerism and security. Taking precisely the example of the online dating websites, he establishes a double parallel between, on the one hand, a secure society and a desire to reduce and control the risks of romance: "the national identity is still a policy of comfort and security. In order to avoid any risks, a comfortable position is sought against all external threats." And secondly, between consumer society and romance consumerism: "Many of the online dating websites make the claim of risk-free "love", facilitated by screening the partner according to specific criteria. A love that could be defined by its spontaneous, unpredictable aspect is inscribed here within a consumerist framework. I believe, in fact, that liberal and libertarian converge on the idea that love is an unnecessary risk."
How does one love in a society where self-expression and intimacy remain difficult, despite the emergence of dialogue related to practices of witnessing? Between self-performativity, privacy and modesty, how does the speech of the other emerge? Are literature, cinema, and transmedia practices of testimony aided by the re-inscription of the subject in social communication and supported by a renewal of forms of expression of the intimate?
In L'histoire trouée, Catherine Coquio, wonders if the testimonial literature on the genocide should be seen as the emergence of a new genre that disrupts Rwandans relationship with writing, a self-writing that modifies their relationship to literature. She notes that women's speaking out, which assumes a "duty to testify" about the genocide, "disrupts the practice relative to the unspoken, this self-expression must forge its own way between the imperative of modesty and the obscenity of the crime against intimacy committed during the genocide. "
Writers and filmmakers often evoke this "sense of decency" in the modesty specific to Rwandan culture (Mukasanga also reads in this "prudishness" of society, the influence of Christian morality). A sense of restraint in the expression of the intimate that gives form to what J. Riesz called an "aesthetic of modesty, a recollection of facts more than feelings experienced in response to these events. The use of the first person is not only about self-examination, nor the expression of individuality, but through it a sense of solidarity is expressed; the "I" of the speaker takes on a metonymic value." There is a tension between the intimacy of suffering and desire for public transmission, between modesty and shame, and obligation to witness this intimate suffering.
How does one love in a society in full economic development, in the era of new technologies and globalised trade? Could Alain Badiou’s reflection in In Praise of Love be extended, establishing a connection between the economic growth of Rwanda and the development of online dating websites in terms of economic liberalism and love? Is the use of online dating websites linked to a necessity? A feeling of loneliness, or increased isolation in a society that offers fewer possibilities for exchange and sharing, fewer meeting places, fewer family alliances, friendship networks? What types of relationships are sought on these sites: serious or light-hearted?
Or rather, to what extent do social networks, online dating websites with their conversational modes, have a preference for the creation of virtual and real communities? Do these new technologies offer new spaces for meeting, sharing, parity of relationships (male / female relationships, as well as minority sexual practices such as homosexual love)?
These complex questions remain open, but they are addressed and conveyed through the structure of the project Single Rwandan, built around a multimedia system device. The book project about love in Rwanda supplements and extends, diachronically, the reflections on the changes in relational modes of sharing in Rwanda.
(1) Gugler, J., African Film, re-imagining a continent, Bloomington, Indiana Univ. Press, 2003.
Release dates: - the documentary on TV Tours, TV10 (Rwanda and Canal Sat) and TV5 Monde between June and October 2015 - the web documentary on courrierinternational.com and tv5monde.com, igihe.com between June and October 2015 - installation and the book: November / December 2015.