In Rwanda We Say. . . The Family That Does Not Speak Dies. Directed by Anne Aghion. New York: Gacaca Films, 2004. 54 minutes.
The Notebooks of Memory. Directed by Anne Aghion. New York: Gacaca Films, 2009. 53 minutes.
Anne Aghion has directed a number of nonfiction films on post-genocide Rwanda. They unpack the impact of communal justice and reconciliation on the lived experiences of people in Rwanda’s Gafumba hills area, focusing specifically on the community-based Gacaca tribunals for those accused of committing unspeakable crimes against their mostly Tutsi neighbors during the 1994 genocide. While perpetrators await trials they are given a provisional release on the condition that they admit to their crimes and ask for forgiveness from their victims and from Rwandans in general. Aghion shares with the viewers insight into the psychosocial trauma that both survivors and perpetrators confront through this legal course of action explored.
In Rwanda We Say. . . and The Notebooks of Memory, the films discussed here, are the final two films in a trilogy. In Rwanda We Say. . . Aghion takes the viewers to the rural community of Ntongwe to witness the homecoming of Abraham Rwamfizi, a purported leader of a hill-based cell that carried out attacks (mostly with machetes) during the genocide. The application of Gacaca law granted Rwamfizi a provisional release as he awaited his trial in Gacaca community courts. Upon his return from prison to the community, he was forced to admit to his crimes in public and to confront his victims/accusers and ask for forgiveness. The film is successful in revealing the emotional toll the tribunals bring to both the perpetrators and their victims. Viewers can feel the agony of the victims who face in close proximity those who committed violence and the way the accusers genuinely want to get the truth from the accused. Those on trial, on the other hand, are shown to be nervous and frustrated because they don’t want to confess to all, or even part of, the horrible crimes they are accused of committing.
The second film, The Notebooks of Memory, focuses exclusively on the Gacaca tribunals of Rubona (a sector in Ntongwe). The film opens with the perpetrators from In Rwanda We Say. . . setting up outdoors for their upcoming tribunals. Community members in attendance sit on the grass while state agents/prosecutors sit in chairs around tables. Each perpetrator is given an opportunity to speak in front of the audience, and then victims are able to speak and ask perpetrators to talk about their involvement in the horrific crimes they committed. At times, state agents intervene and ask questions or read previously recorded testimonies from their notebooks. Some of the accused admit to their crimes; others have a hard time admitting to anything. In the end, the court renders its verdict for each of the men on trial.
The films provide a raw account of Gacaca trials. They have been produced and edited as if the director didn’t want to give any analytical interpretation above and beyond a presentation of trial fragments as they occurred. Aghion expects viewers to do a lot of guessing—about the specific actions unfolding in the trials and the different groups present in the tribunals. For example, it is not always clear who the major stakeholders are (state agents, community members, etc.) and what roles they play in the tribunals. In general, if you didn’t watch the previous film, it is difficult to follow the others; as a result, these films may not work well on their own, since the filmmaker does not provide contextual information on the social actors involved.
To be useful in the classroom, all three films should be watched in sequence with readings that give information on Gacaca law and tribunals. This will undoubtedly allow students to more productively appreciate the raw and uncut nature of the films. Without background about the Gacaca court and the genocide in Rwanda, it will be very difficult for students to fully appreciate the films’ content and engage in an analytical discussion of their major themes. Therefore, for a successful Africanist and feminist classroom I recommend assigning Phil Clark’s “Hybridity, Holism, and ‘Traditional’ Justice: The Case of the Gacaca Courts in Post-Genocide Rwanda” before a screening and Jeremy Sarkin’s “Promoting Justice, Truth and Reconciliation in Transitional Societies: Evaluating Rwanda’s Approach in the New Millennium of Using Community Based Gacaca Tribunals To Deal With the Past” afterward.1
1 Phil Clark, “Hybridity, Holism, and ‘Traditional’ Justice: The Case of the Gacaca Courts in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” George Washington International Law Review 39, no. 4 (2007): 765-837; Jeremy Sarkin, “Promoting Justice, Truth, and Reconciliation in Transitional Societies: Evaluating Rwanda’s Approach in the New Millennium of Using Community Based Gacaca Tribunals to Deal with the Past,” International Law FORUM du droit international 2, no. 2 (2000): 112-21.