Monday, January 30, 2006

Home safe

Terminal 3 ain't so bad...

Met a cool photographer, Ira, on my the flight from Nairobi last night. He and Angela (a nurse) were travelling through Uganda doing photography & medical work for his church. Check out his sites: and

Flights have been uneventful... I've had a good chance to go through all my shots. I only shot about 350 this time around... spent most of my time working with video. One of these days I'm going to get a chance to just do photography and really get some great shots. It's frustrating to always have to compromise one (photos) for the other (filming). So many beautiful people & places in East Africa...

I've got another half-hour on my Wifi access, then I'll be trying to keep myself occupied for the next four hours until my gate opens...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

From Masaka

Quick hello from Masaka, Uganda. We're on our way down to the school at Kibaale, and stopped by an internet cafe for one last fix :)

Our last day of filming in Rwanda was a bust... we had a Gacaca court lined up that was already in the stage of trying prisoners, but for some reason they weren't meeting that day. We went to two other courts, but most Gacaca's only sit on Fridays or Sundays.... so we were out of luck. That's a big disappointment, but we have a contact at the local news station who can hopefully get us some footage within our budget (i.e. less than $50).

We tried again for the helicopter shot, but again no luck there... the place won't be operating again for another month.

The drive here has been uneventful. The border was interesting... about seven offices to stop by and get approval to go through the gate. We stayed in a small place in Kabale for $8/night. Got some good shots off the balcony before turning in to the sounds of the bar and the soccer game on below.

I'll be helping Jim film his project for the next couple days, then fly out of Entebbe on Sunday night... and back into the real world :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Last day, round two

Feeling not-so-hot after a bad sleep and spending too much time in the sun yesterday. We shot some great footage of traditional Rwandan dancing here at one of the schools. Beautiful. Picked up some b-roll of Nicholas, some extra interview clips with Jeff, Yvonne and Richard, and some man-on-the-street with a couple shop owners near the edge of town. Finally Richard and I got to enjoy an evening with Nicholas and his family (and Jim got a much needed break - he's been travelling with his family solid for the last month).

This morning we're shooting a Gacaca court. These are traditional village courts reinstated to deal with the 120,000 genocidaires imprisoned for accusations of genocide. Members of each community are chosen by the community to oversee the court ("People of Integrity"). These people then spend months compiling a list of victims and perpetrators of genocide to present to the community before trials begin. The accused are given a chance to confess what they've done, in exchange for lenience in their sentencing, and all of the trials take place in front of the entire community.

When run well, these courts give the community a chance to heal... the sins of the past are spoken for everyone to hear and forgiveness is extended to the repentant. They're controversial because the accused must defend themselves, and the checks & balances of a traditional court are not in place. But with the massive backlog of people still in jail 12 years later, the Rwandese we've talked to see the courts as a blessing.

After the court, we'll be heading for the Ugandan border. AFAIK there is no internet where we're headed (they only have power 3 hours a day), so my next contact will probably be from London.

Thanks for following along on the journey.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Jim to Mr. Ericsson, head of MTN Rwanda: "MTN has got to be the biggest company in the country. What's it like running Rwanda?" hehehe...

Ah, 'twas a good day. An excellent interview with Antoine Rutayisire this morning. He lived through the genocide in Kigali, and has a fantastic in-depth perspective of the reconciliation process of the country. Honest, comprehensive knowledge about the challenges and why Rwanda has done well.

Shot a quick interview with the head of World Relief, some shots of the compound, a little ditty for Jim's church, and the aforementioned MTN interview. Tomorrow is some pickups with Jeff & Yvonne, Rwandan dancing and some man-on-the-street shots with small shop owners.

We went for dinner at Chez Lando... where Rwandan's go for a good time. Soccer, beer, and skewers combine for a lively atmosphere. We had a lot of fun watching Richard join in with the locals cheering on the Nigerian football club.

The Ugandan contingent (Jim's family and some teachers from Kibaale) left this morning to return. We'll be heading there after we shoot a gacaca on Wednesday morning. So... tomorrow's the last day to pick up any of the last few shots.

Still not solid on the glue that holds the pieces together, but we've got so much good footage... now comes the hard part of piecing it together so that it hits both the heart and the mind. One thing is for sure: I am constinually inspired by the resilience and hope of the Rwandese.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gacaca part I

Jim's been busting the theory about 'Africa time'. Up until today the only ones late to appointments have been the mzungus (white people).

African bureaucracy is like anywhere... it takes forever to get things done, in this case a signature on a letter. Finally at 10am this morning we were given a letter allowing us to shoot Gacaca courts in session. By 3 we located one and set up to shoot, but this particular court isn't at the point of trying prisoners yet. They're completing the work of compiling a list of victims and perpetrators of genocide from this community, a process that has taken three months. It was interesting and informative, but there was nothing there for us to shoot.

So, today was basically a bust for usable footage. Sad to loose a day out of a 5-day schedule, but in the end this footage will be worth the hassle. We have the location of a court for Wednesday morning (as we leave for Uganda) that we know is trying prisoners.

The next two days are quite full - three interviews tomorrow: Antoine Rutayisire, head of African Enterprise; the CEO of MTN Rwanda; and the head of World Relief Rwanda. Tuesday is option day. We're still working on the chopper... beyond that we've got a bunch of broll, quick interviews with Jeff & Yvonne of Wellspring, a Rwandan dancing ceremony, and talking to a couple small shop owners in Kigali.

There's this small fear in the back of my mind that I'll miss something... not in terms of detail. We have enough detail on the inner workings of Rwanda to create a 5-hour uber-documentary. It's the story thread, the hook, the heart stuff... is this story as I have it now really going to grab people? It should, on its own merit. But storytelling doesn't change people by the merit of the story. It depends on the skill of the storyteller.

And this is a documentary of Rwandan voices. I don't want to have a voiceover telling people what to think. I want Rwandan voices to share their struggles & dreams. So in the next couple days I'll be searching for that overlooked thread that hits the message home.

No Gacaca shots today, so here's something from yesterday:

And here's the project file I'm working with for this trip, for Jesse & Lyn:

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Essential Oils

Not much time tonight, need to get some rest. Spent much of the day at Nicholas' essential oils program. The various oils they produce are used in perfumes, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. His program employs widows and orphans and invest dividends back into the community. Nicholas started the program with a grant and works with 100 farmers. He was approved last summer for a $500,000 USAID grant to expand the program to 2000 farmers, but bureaucracy is so far keeping the money in limbo.

Rwanda is lacking in any major exportable goods. With a knowledge economy 15 years off (once the current crop of kids graduate and get through university), the country needs a sustainable, profitable model to help people make a decent living. Nicholas model is so far working very well with the soil types and climate of Rwanda. Hopefully it will be able to be employed around the country and help Rwanda have some influence in the essential oils markets.

What's unique about Nicholas' project, besides sustainability and community investment, is the quality. It's all organic farming, which produces the highest quality oils, and creates a premium on the market making it quite lucrative. It's an interesting example of Rwandan taking local knowledge and applying it to the global economy.

Still waiting on Gacaca approval... hoping we will be given our documents tomorrow AM so we can film a court-in-progress tomorrow afternoon. This is a short but really important piece of footage for us. We're also still in limbo on the helicopter flight, which would add some great scenics to the doc.

Some shots of Jim & I shooting, and Richard & Nicholas (perpetually) on the horn

Friday, January 20, 2006

A long day. A good day. We spent most of our camera time with Nicholas Hitimana. We went with him to the house where he & Elsie were living when genocide broke out. It's the first time he has been inside since 1994. They ran leaving everything they had, and the place is now abandoned and completely stripped clean.

As we drove Nicholas re-told his story. We talked about their escape from genocide. We talked about the struggle to reconcile his Hutu history with his Tutsi wife. And we took him to his highschool to talk of his dreams for Rwanda.

The end of the day we spent filming Elsie and a group of vulnerable women she has been working with. They're doing a microfinance business selling goods that they knit & sew.

A long day, but good and productive. Nicholas was more relaxed in front of the camera and very articulate. Jim and I dropped into a groove right away. It's great working with someone with so much experience... plus he's laid back and we have fun working together.

We're conducting an experiment on Richard. He's been doing a great job coordinating our in-country logistics, but was feeling bad about a couple small things... so we stopped at a roadside cafe/greasy spoon in the middle of Gitarama and fed him some three-day-old Samosas to make him feel better. Seems to have cheered him up... we'll see about the long-term effects.

We didn't have time to shoot any stills during the day, but here's a couple from tonight:

This is mission control... more crammed than before but no roped off zones.

This is the van Dijk family... Jim's wife Sharon is doing teacher training, and their family is in the middle of a two-month Africa tour. Hannah and Emily (Jim's daughters) are 9 and 11... lucky girls to be able to experience the world so young.

Tomorrow will be spent with Nicholas at his essential oils project, filming some teacher training, and possibly a Gacaca court. We're waiting for the Minister of Culture for permission to film the courts, but the document should be signed by tomorrow AM. Still working on the Kigali helicopter flyover...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hey folks,

Safe & sound in Rwanda. Besides (yet again) convincing Air Canada that yes, my bags did need to come with me to Kigali and not enjoy their own vacation in Nairobi (grrr...) the trip was uneventful. Met up with Jim & Richard yesterday, unpacked all the gear and started planning out the days. Today's a big day right off the top. We're spending most of today with one of our main characters, Nicholas Hitimana. We'll be travelling to different places that make up a part of his story of surviving the genocide and talking to him about why he came back and what his dreams are for Rwanda.

Jet lag is pretty minimal. I crashed about 7pm last night and slept all the way until 5am. Awoke to the now-familiar alarm clock of the birds and voices bouncing off the hills. Feels good to be back.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

London, part MCMXLIXX

Back in London... thought I'd be 'adventurous' and take the Heathrow Express instead of the tube... turns out Paddington Station is pretty much in the middle of nowhere - unless you hop back on the tube. Heh. So much for that 6 brits.

So I'm back in the Leicester square Starbucks, pretty much the only place in tourist-ville that takes Visa (Just think, I was salivating over a King Burger, only to get rejected at the transaction. Shame. Not sense wasting good money on the exchange to cold hard pounds.) Why Starbucks? Because Heathrow is about exciting as a bed of nails, and I've got a seven hour layover. And I've walked half the downtown core already, and this one's right next to the tube station... anyway. Now that I've got the guilt off my chest...

Before I left I got an interesting comment from Chris - roommate extraordinaire and previous trip's sound recordist... that it just seems normal that I'm heading back to Africa. Not that it's routine, but prep for these trips is like a familiar pair of shoes. Slips on nice & easy and doesn't require a lot of stress or extra thought. That's good for a lot of reasons... one being my mental time can be spent improving the story instead of sweating the details.

I feel blessed. Africa a half-dozen times in a couple years, and what I do has a small part in changing things. (One of my other documentaries has really hit home, and I hope this one will too.) I get to do what I'm built for, in a way that is strategic and honors God (esp. the whole caring for the widows & orphans bit). And it's something unique... connecting to the heart, not just the head, about stories that matter. Africa is a totally different world from our pavement paradise, but it's only a few hours away. Only a little more than driving to Edmonton, yet these global neighbours are so far outside of most of our minds.

Anyway, this post isn't saying much... blame it on the jet lag. I'll post again after I hit the red dirt.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rwanda reprise

There's some new folks stopping by so I thought I'd give a summary of our project.

We (Jesse & Lyn Rosten, Chris Davies, and I, Trevor Meier) were inspired a few years ago by some friends who moved to Rwanda to help rebuild. They brought back stories of passionate Rwandans with a hopeful vision of the future. The memories I had of Rwanda were of death and brutality, a hopeless place... so their stories surprised me.

Most of the coverage on Rwanda has focused on the events of 1994 where between 800,000 and 1 million children, women & men were systematically masacred. Rwanda is a very different place now. There is slowly climbing prosperity and open access to education. They've had their international debt lifted by the G8. There is little corruption, the streets are safe, and there's building happening everywhere in Kigali.

They still face problems of a close-handed government, fair trials and reintegration of 120,000+ genocidaires, on-going trauma from the genocide, high population density (the highest in Africa) and a 95% rural subsistence-agriculture economy on quickly shrinking plots of land. And though education is free, the quality is low because the capacity doesn't exist to teach all these kids.

If anyone deserves our (western) attention, it's this country we left to rot in 1994. There's an almost-schizophrenic view in Rwanda, not wanting westerners to interfere, but knowing they need our help. Rwandans have their own ideas. We talked to some bright university students about what they want Rwanda to look like. They don't want to run off to America to get rich. They believe in their nation, their people. They don't want white knights. They need friends, expertise, training, investment, access to markets, and they want to do the rest.

In Rwandese there's anger, bitterness, resentment, and pain mixed in with passion, desire for peace and community, hope and vision. Our film is following some of these stories, how reintegration is going, how Canadians are helping with Christian values-based leadership education, how Rwandans are building capacity in their own people, and a few Rwandans who are striking out to access international markets.

How does a country move beyond something as devastating as genocide? We're watching it happen in Rwanda.

The rumours are true...

... not only is Jim van Dijk helping us finish up our film, I'm heading back to Rwanda to do it with him. Tomorrow. (Or, today, by the clock.) Sadly, Jesse, Chris & Lyn aren't able to come, but I'll be joined in-country by Richard & Jeff of the Wellspring Foundation. I'll definitely be missing the company of my crew compadre's, getting schooled at ping-pong and eating chipati's as before. But alas...

This time around the stay will be short. Jim and I will only be spending five days in Rwanda. We have several things we'd like to shoot, some of which we can't pre-organize, only go out and get. Others, like interviewing genocidaires reintegrating into their communities, will take divine intervention to pull off. A top priority is spending more time with Nicholas Hitimana, who I've mentioned here before. His story is key to our documentary, and symbolizes Rwanda's journey.

The time since August has been... well, really good. The story & structure have had time to simmer, boiling off the froth to leave only juicy goodness behind. Rwanda is a complex place. We've done research, reading, watching other docs, talking to people... but it's difficult to know what's really happening there without spending time on the ground with real Rwandese.

Our first trip got us some incredible access - from the top to the bottom of the country, both in a geographical and societal sense. We heard a lot of stories, and captured some of the beauty of the place and the people. But our first trip raised as many questions as we answered... We got it (over, and over again) that education is the way forward, but less solid is why, and to what end? And what about the 120,000 Rwandans still in jail for genocide? Those are the kinds of questions I'm going to try and answer on this trip - a more truthful examination of how the reconciliation process is going; and a more practical understanding of the way forward.

Keep checking back over the next few weeks (& months after I get back). At the end of all this I think we're going to have a compelling story to share, and mostly through Rwandan voices.

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

work continues...

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- MLK, Jr.

Work has begun again to complete the documentary. After completing a short promotional film for Wellspring (our hosts in Rwanda) in mid-October, I had to spend most of my time first on finishing three (!!) other documentaries (see more here), and then Christmas...

There's more to say, but we are lucky to have Jim van Dijk helping us with some additional filming. I'll post more in a couple of weeks.

© 2010 cinesketch media group