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Ten years after watching families and friends die in the Rwandan genocide, survivors of the slaughter are recreating the horror — this time as cast and crew of a film shot on location in the land where the killings occurred.
“I am afraid to say this is a true story,” said Raoul Peck, writer-director of “Sometimes in April,” an HBO film shot where more than 500,000 Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were slaughtered in 100 days.
Set in Rwanda, Washington, and Paris, the film looks at the genocide and the stunning bravery of its victims through the eyes of one family.
It shows the indifference of a world that dismissed the genocide as routine African bloodshed, said Peck, who spent 18 months researching in Rwanda and Tanzania, where masterminds of the genocide are still on trial at a U.N. tribunal.
The Haitian-born filmmaker agreed to write and direct the film on the condition that it is shot in Rwanda.
“I felt we could make a film in which the Rwandan people can recognize themselves and participate at every level ... that it make sense to the people here first and then to the rest of the world,” Peck told The Associated Press.
He said it was difficult to decide to go ahead with the film because of the lack of film infrastructure, but he added: “After many months here, we are convinced filming in Rwanda was the right thing to do.”
Cast, crew detail personal experiences
The movie’s set is a half-mile away from where skeletal remains of 250,000 victims are buried in tombs and exhibited in glass cases. To create authentic scenes, genocide survivors working as cast and crew detailed their personal experiences.
“Sometime we go somewhere and somebody just says ‘Yes, I was hiding for two months behind this house’ or ‘My uncle died a street from there,”’ said Peck, who also directed “Lumumba,” the 2000 film about Congo’s assassinated Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. “It is just a daily occurrence.”
“Sometimes in April the rains come in Rwanda,” said Sam Martin, the HBO executive in charge of production, citing the film’s title, a Rwandan saying recalling the blessings of rain.
But April of 1994 brought genocide. Victims were chased into churches, maize fields, banana plantations and swamps and hacked to death by machete-wielding neighbors, soldiers and militiamen.
A team of psychologists is on the set to help genocide survivors deal with trauma that may be triggered by graphic reminders of the past.
In one incident, the special-effects crew scattered fake cadavers in a swamp outside the capital of Kigali that had been a killing ground and hiding place for Tutsis.
The scene was too real for a village woman who wandered to the set and saw more than a dozen silicone corpses. She screamed and sobbed, overcoming the shock only with a psychologist’s help.
A family tale
“Sometimes in April” tells the story of Hutu Capt. Augustin Muganza who is forced to relive the genocide when he receives a letter from his brother detained in Arusha, Tanzania, for his role as a broadcaster at an extremist radio station that spurred on the killings with propaganda.
Muganza, now a teacher, is reluctant to agree to his brother’s request to visit him at the U.N. tribunal investigating the genocide.
But his new girlfriend presses him to go and deal with a troubled past that includes the unknown fate of his Tutsi wife and children and a devastating death of his former friend and comrade in the army.
The film shows a senior U.S. official wrestling with her convictions to stop the genocide while working for an administration reluctant to take on a new African conflict soon after 18 U.S. troops were killed in another African nation, Somalia.
“Sometimes in April,” slated for release next year, is one of four movies in production on the Rwandan genocide. One of them, “Hotel Rwanda,” now being shot in South Africa, tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotel manager pressed by his Tutsi wife to save more than 1,200 people.
Peck said “Sometimes in April” includes a few composite characters of several people he met. But “every single line of this film, of the screenplay, is authentic and based on facts.”
He added: “How the characters evolve in the 10 years of the duration of the film ... how they cope with the past, how the past is still present in their daily lives, what they do to react to that ... It is a witness to the Rwanda of today.”