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Alrick Brown's Kinyarwanda speaks volumes

Brown's first feature provides an innovative perspective to the Rwandan crisis

"Don't' compare it to Hotel Rwanda, Don't compare it to Hotel Rwanda!" I kept telling myself. So much so its typed at the top of my notes in a bold red font. Its true, both Kinyarwanda and Hotel Rwanda shed light on the atrocities that befell the people of Rwanda where an estimated one million Tutsis were savagely massacred by Hutus hardly make a compelling argument for their similarities. The reality of the absurdity of the statement is the two films are completely different — approaching hope in times of adversity from two completely different points of view. But I guess that illustrates my lack of comprehending the scale of the situation that transpired and has little, if anything to do with Alrick Brown's story.

Set on the streets of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda chronicles the story of Jean (Hadidja Zaninka), a young woman grappling for a bit of normalcy as a spree of violence takes place in her neighborhood. Starting with a narrative by an uninterested Jean, she explains the senseless situation her country is dealing with. Conflict aside, Jean is bored and just wants to hang out with friends at a small gathering where they try to forget - if just for a moment, what really happening just outside the front door. As the party comes to an end, the grave nature of the Rwandan situation abruptly reveals itself and Jean's story makes a sharp turn to illustrate it.

Writer/director Alrick Brown decides to break Jean's story into a series of six vignettes, highlighting the people and the actions that directly and sometimes inadvertently affect her before, during and after attending her friend's get-together. The acts that seem more like a collection of shorts comprising the film include perspectives from peacekeepers, the Mufti of Rwanda and Hutu rebels. The scenes are not chronological — jumping constantly from present to past and future. Jean is the linchpin that intertwines throughout but that fact is not as transparent as each segment introduces new characters adding clarity, dimension and perspective to the events that transpire.

Kinyarwanda marks Brown's first feature length film and cleverly appeals to his strengths — creating interesting, compelling shorts. Stripping away the need to tell a linear story, Brown focuses more intensely on the facets of the Rwandan people from the street level, rarely approaching the issues from a lofty perspective but instead keeps the crux of each matter on an emotional plateau that he can quickly and easily share. This innovative storytelling helps to intensify the mystery of the larger narrative and allows Brown to add beautiful imagery to punctuate the underlying themes of fortitude, faith and hope.

One comparison I feel compelled to make is both Hotel Rwanda and Kinyarwanda limit bloody and violent imagery to display the horror and savagery of genocide. This conscious decision to focus on the character and conflict of the Rwandan people without any sensationalized gore to make an unnecessary point is commendable in both films making it appeal for educational viewing and families.