"Matière Grise (Grey Matter)" / A film about imagination and madness by Rwanda's Kivu Ruhorahoza

The film Matière Grise (Grey Matter) by 28 year-old writer/director Kivu Ruhorahoza recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and took home awards for Special Jury Mention and Best Actor for Shami Bizimana. Ruhorahoza explained that “Matter” is a movie “about imagination and madness.” He simply wanted to show the lives and confusions of young Rwandese people struggling with trauma. “I wanted to show on screen that loss of sanity that so many of us in Rwanda have experienced,” he said.

Synopsis (Tribeca Film Festival):
Balthazar is a young African filmmaker on the brink of directing his first project, "The Cycle of the Cockroach," a fictional story about a young woman who survived unspeakable atrocities only to find herself committed to the same mental institution as a man driven insane by the crimes he perpetrated during the war. Potential funders for the film insist the themes are too bleak and pessimistic—they encourage Balthazar to make a "message" film that raises awareness about gender-based violence or HIV/AIDS instead. But he refuses to give up. Instead of telling his production team the news, Balthazar continues preparations for the film without financing or equipment. After rehearsing a scene with each of the characters, reality blurs and scenes from the script materialize, provoking the question: Can a film like this exist only in the director's dreams? Armed with a daring and creative visual language, writer/director Kivu Ruhorahoza boldly grasps at the illusory trick of representation in the wake of trauma and its ensuing madness. Paralleling the protagonist in his film, Ruhorahoza's debut marks the very first feature-length narrative film directed by a Rwandan filmmaker living in his homeland.

Q&A: Filmmaker’s Path From Rwanda to Tribeca
(SOURCE: New York Times)

“Grey Matter,” a feature film from the writer and director Kivu Ruhorahoza, represents the Tribeca Film Festival’s first movie from Rwanda by a Rwandan filmmaker. The film, which has its world premiere on April 21, blends fantasy and reality in its portrayal of the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda as seen through the eyes of a novice director struggling to make a film called “The Cycle of the Cockroach.” Mr. Ruhorahoza, 28, spoke recently to Arts Beat about the inspiration for the movie and its title, how Flaubert and Norman Mailer piqued his interest in storytelling, and why he chose filmmaking over practicing law. These are excerpts from that conversation.

Q.How did “Grey Matter” come about?

I wanted to start with a short story about two siblings who are experiencing trauma. Then I wrote another story about a madman who might have been involved in the killing of the parents of those siblings. It became one really long story. It was really, really experimental and not easy to understand. I tried to raise money. It became really frustrating. It had some elements of my own life. I was suffering to tell the story. So why not write about me suffering to tell the story? I wrote the part about a filmmaker who is not able to make a film that is so dear to his heart.

Q.Do you have vivid memories of the Tutsi genocide?

Yeah. I absolutely remember. I was eleven and a half. I had gone out of Kigali to go visit my grandmother who was very sick. So it all happened in Kigali while I was on the other side of the country. When I finally did talk to my family by phone I’d hear gunshots and bombs in the background. I could hear the panicked voices on the telephone. On the radio they were talking about thousands of bodies in the streets and people being killed, systematically. I started worrying all the time, in my 11-year-old mind. I developed some sort of a trauma. Not talking to anyone. Crying for no reason. It went on for a few weeks until I heard it was false news, spread by some people who wanted to help the family, just so the killers would stop looking for them. By the end of the genocide, when I went back to Kigali to find my family, they had gone through something I hadn’t gone through. I didn’t know how to talk to them. I didn’t know how to ask them. It will probably always be a difficult discussion between me and my family. (full interview / source)