A Film Opinion by: Jacqueline A. Hinds
Written & Directed: Jo Ingabire Moys
Produced by: Stephanie Charmail, Boris Mendza & Gaël Cabouat.
An emotive, powerful, and moving short film!
After watching the trailer for Bazigaga, I was intrigued and wanted to see more! My commendation to the actors in Bazigaga (Elaine Umuhire), Karembe (Ery Nzaramba), Prof (Roger Ineza) and Voyou (Aboudou Issam) who brought their whole self, lived experiences and knowledge to the fore in this short film.
It was estimated that between 600,000 people majority of which were Tutsi, lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. This is difficult to comprehend or vocalise as this is not my journey, but I’m intrigued, drawn in, and it compelled me to research it further.
Jo Ingabire Moys draws from her experience as a child fleeing the genocide in Rwanda, and the devastating impact this had on her with the loss of half of her family members. In this short film she opens a window into the reality of what took place during that time, to give the audience some insight into atrocities that took place. Inspired by the true story of Zuri Karuhimbi, a healer who let people believe she was a witch in order for her to use her knowledge to heal others but also to save hundreds of lives and give shelter to those fleeing the massacre.
The opening shots of the film portray a lush and peaceful landscape. I’m totally mesmerised and drawn in with this picturesque and tranquil scenery, with a beautiful sunrise kissing the tips of the hills and mountainous regions on the rich green landscape.
This beautiful vision was shattered and quickly dissipated by the sound of rapid gunfire and Hutu militia with guns running through the forest in hot pursuit of someone.
The ‘someone’ being a Christian pastor who is running for his life through the forest with his injured daughter slung over his shoulder. He is constantly looking around as he makes his way to refuge from his pursuers and, from potential death.
Karembe stops at a little house in the forest and bangs earnestly on the door. All you see as the audience is a metal viewer slide open, eyes peering through from the inhabitant; his desperation plays out as he proceeds to beg for shelter, his eyes pleading and full of fear because, the shelter he seeks is in the home of the feared witch called Bazigaga.
The irony of the situation is that he had portrayed Bazigaga (a traditional healer) as a witch, which made her life very difficult but at the same time, gave her a lot of power because she was feared by many including the militia who were pursuing him and his daughter.
She proceeds to open her door and home to him and his injured daughter and through this act of empathy and kindness, we see where cultural practices and Christianity converge as they both venture down the pathway of trust.
She uses her natural gifts to heal the injured child and also administer to Karembe who was suffering and complained of a persistent headache. Bazigaga gave him something to chew on to alleviate this but his hesitancy through fear and his Christian belief system is overridden by his need to be rid of this headache.
Here we see the start of a healing, understanding and acceptance of belief and tradition in order to work together. During the situation, Karembe has had to reassess his feelings about Bazigaga, and in some way address the part he played in vilifying her as a witch to his church congregation and others in their community. This self-reflective opportunity brings him to the realisation and understanding that she is willing to help him and his daughter even though with him coming to her, he was putting her at risk with the militia who had started to mill around her home.
In the midst of danger and considering that she is pretending to be a witch, one can only feel admiration for her fearless attitude and unwavering strength of character that shines through. Especially when Prof who heads up the militia, confronts her and tells her to hand over Karembe and warned her that he will be back to get him. Throughout his tirade she continued to chant, looking directly at him as she did so. You could see the look of fear on the faces of the militia men gathered outside in front of her house – hearing and seeing everything.
As the story continues to unfold, it is woven with segments of news being broadcast on a radio, giving them both insight into what is happening outside of the house in the much wider context. There also seemed to be a calmness and harmony between the three occupants of the house. Karambe’s daughter displayed no fear of Bazigaga and seemed to be feeling much better after the herbs she used on her appeared to be working. It was almost as if the truce was hanging in the air, unspoken but understood by all.
True to his word, Prof returned to Bazigaga’s house with his militia men, but this time there was no threats, he pushed past her, and his men proceeded to tear the house apart looking for Karambe, who was hiding in the well at the back of the house with his daughter, at the insistence of Bazigaga.
The crack of a gunshot was heard, bringing Karambe and his daughter from their hiding place. Shouting Bazigaga’s name as he runs to her aid, finding her slumped against a wall after being shot. He rushes to help her but, she tells Karambe to leave her and save himself and his daughter.
The final shot in the film is moving and poignant as you see and hear Bazigaga chanting, visibly injured clasping a bible Karambe had given her tightly to her chest. It was wonderful to see that towards the end of the film, an actual archive interview clip of Zuri Karuhimbi was included. Priceless.
I would urge you to watch this BAFTA nominated film, as there are so many facets to this story. Not only does it give you the viewer a glimpse of the horrors and emotions of this war, but it also shines a light on the resilience and sheer will to survive of the Rwandan people.
It was a pleasure to meet Jo Ingabire Moys at the end of the screening and, I even managed to get a picture taken with her.