Celebrating Women Filmmakers

Urusaro International Women Film Festival

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Actress Antoinette Uwamahoro, best known as Intare y’Ingore, receiving the award. / Eddie Nsabimana

Poupoun Sesonga Kamikazi is the brains behind the Urusaro International Women Film Festival (UWIFF) that was held at the Umubano Hotel in Kigali recently.

In its second edition now, the festival celebrates the gains made by female filmmakers from Rwanda and Africa, although this year’s edition also saw movies from a few Asian nations screened.

This year organizers received a total of forty movie submissions, of which twenty three films were selected. Of these, eleven were from Rwanda, making the event a predominantly Rwandan affair.

Other movie submissions came from East and West Africa. One filmmaker from Gabon and another from Ivory Coast also flew down to Kigali for the festival.

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Poupoune Kamikazi Sesonga (left, in red dress), the festival director and John Kwezi (1st left) posing for a photo with the winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

The now annual festival was founded in 2015, but funding glitches left organizers with no option but to cancel last year’s event at the last moment.

New partnerships with Tele 10, 4GLTE and other sponsors ensured the festival bounces back bigger and better this year.

More support and goodwill also came from government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).

“Urusaro International Women Film Festival is about movies made by women, be it local or foreign. I myself am a movie maker and an artist. I have made five movies, so why not inspire other women to make movies too?”, remarked Kamikazi, at a pre-event press conference at the 4G Square in Downtown Kigali.

“We have many workshops where upcoming filmmakers will be helped to know how to pitch for funding because making movies requires a lot of money. Filmmakers will also have a chance to network because we have invited people from government and embassies and filmmakers from abroad,” she added.

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Awards reserved for winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

“This is the first film festival to approach us for partnership and for us as Tele 10 we have a lot of movie content so we decided to come out and familiarize our brand in the society. We need more local filmmakers. People have been watching movies from Hollywood and Europe but it’s now time for Rwandan movies to taken center stage,” explained Emmanuel Niyonshuti, the head of Sales and Marketing at Tele 10.

The festival closed on March 11th, with a special award ceremony for best movie makers.

Some of the local filmmakers who walked away with awards include; Antoinnette Uwamahoro for Best Actress, Ahadi Beni for Best Actor, while the Best Short Film Accolade went to Apolline Uwimana for her film, Bugingo. The Most Popular Film was Isaha, by Zaninka Joselyn.

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Joselyne Zaninka posing with the ‘most popular film’ award. / Eddie Nsabimana
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Apolline Uwimana won three awards in the International Women Film festival. / Eddie Nsabimana

Started as a joke

In July 2012, Kamikazi won her maiden movie award, courtesy of the short film, Kivuto at the then Rwanda International Film Festival, now Rwanda Film Festival. And she has never looked back since.

She was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but is Rwandan. She attended Kicukiro Primary school in Rwanda, then left for Burundi for her secondary studies. It’s in Burundi that the inspiration for her first film manifested, although at the time she didn’t consider a career in film.

Kivuto is a film borne out of her childhood memories about children with disabilities arising from complicated birth.

“There’s a province called Kirundo on the Burundian side, and Bugesera district on the Rwandan side. Kivuto is the name that was given to a child who had a complicated delivery. Usually the infant would be pushed out of the mother and in most cases that infant would die and if they survived they would come with some disabilities. Growing up, I saw many such children and even adults. Some would not control their biological functions,” she explains.

Following her award, a TV crew from Tele 10 interviewed her family on her success. She was shocked to learn from their interviews that the movie maker in her had started to manifest while she was a little girl of five.

At that age, she started narrating films to her family, films that were merely figments of her fertile imagination.

“I would tell them I had watched the film and start to narrate it yet I had not watched it. My siblings would sit around me and listen. The next day I would do the same and narrate a film I had never seen or heard about. When it was bed time my siblings would come to me to narrate them a film before they would go to sleep. Sometimes they would cry and other times they would be overtaken by fear.

“My mum was so strict and tough, but I was so stubborn and would always break her rules. Every time I would return home I knew that she would beat me up. Because I always knew I was going to be beaten up, I would always come up with a story to calm down her temper as a way of covering my stubbornness. Instead of beating me, she would say welcome, sit next to me and tell me the story,” she explains.

“My mum was a staunch Catholic and she adored the Virgin Mary. To be sure that I had convinced her and her temper had cooled down, I would always add a story about the Virgin Mary. I would tell her that some people had had a vision from the Virgin Mary. That was always the final touch in convincing her.”

It took them about five years to realize she had been creating fictional films she had never watched.

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Beauty for Ashes on stage. / Eddie Nsabimana

In 2008 she returned to Rwanda to continue with school at Mudende Adventist University where she studied Computer Science and Networking.

Towards the end of 2009 she met an American film crew making a movie in Rwanda.

“I was assisting the casting director to cast the characters. I noticed he was so tired and stressed and offered to help him during the pre production of the film. When I did it, the director of film started taking pictures of me and asking me many questions.”

They thought her to be an experienced local movie director, which she was not.

“The casting director asked me to return the next day yet he had his own assistant. I returned for the next couple of days and he kept asking me many questions about movies but I did not know the answers. I had not even read the script of the movie we were casting.

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The audience. / Eddie Nsabimana

He asked how many times I had done casting in movies but I could not tell him I had never done it before because I knew they would not believe me. So I kept quiet, smiled and went away, hoping he would never ask me again.”

After the shoot she picked her allowances and headed back to school, the money having been her only motivation.

But even the Rwandan team from Almond Tree Films that had worked as extras in the film mistook her for an experienced American movie maker. Realizing she was Rwandan, the decided to engage her.

“They requested me to join Almond Tree Films and work with them but I told them I’m not a filmmaker but had just gone to make money.

One day they asked me to write them a script. I told them I had many stories but I didn’t have a computer and didn’t know anything to do with writing scripts. I just used to write my stories in a notebook.

When I gave them the story they said it’s a perfect script and they asked to shoot a movie out of it.”

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Hollywood women: They got respect

 

Never mind the criticism President Trump recently aimed at Meryl Streep: A new study has found that admiration and respect for Hollywood women such as Streep is at an all-time high, marking a shift in attitudes that crosses geographical and demographic lines.

So, good news to mark Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, according to the University of Southern California’s indefatigable Jeetendr Sehdev, the expert on celebrity branding and marketing who churns out regular examinations of Americans’ attitudes toward celebs and their doings. Example: His new book,The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).

Sehdev’s latest survey (of 10,000 people in North America, Europe and Australia during February) found what he called an “extraordinary shift” in attitudes, especially obvious among Millennials and Gen Xers, in which strong Hollywood women such as Oscar winners Streep, Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette are perceived to have outperformed men in a variety of areas, including risk-taking, tenacity and digital savvy.

“Hollywood women have found their voice, are demanding attention and respect from their audiences, and are finally getting it,” Sehdev says.

Despite the routine and widespread criticism of female celebrities in the media — the recent body shaming of Lady Gaga after her Super Bowl performance comes to mind — “audiences have actually developed a greater compassion toward female celebrities through their public failures and insight about the ‘pain of fame,’ ” Sehdev says.

There’s “an overwhelming perception” among those surveyed that women have to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed in Hollywood, he says. Plus, female celebs get more respect than male celebs from those surveyed because they are perceived to show “less competition and more camaraderie” among themselves.

Whether it’s Adele’s shout-out to Beyoncé at the Grammys or the number of female celebrities seen marching arm-in-arm at the post-inauguration Women’s Marches, “a more open idea of sisterhood among Hollywood’s top stars has changed the perception of female celebrities,” Sehdev says.

Streep, Davis and Arquette, for instance, all have taken strong public stands in favor of more diversity in Hollywood, more women in positions of power and closing the pay gap between male and female stars. In the case of Streep, who has three Oscars and a record 20 nominations, she denounced Trump policies at the Golden Globes, which earned her one of his signature tweet insults as “overrated.”

On the issue of pushing for more women in leading roles before and behind the cameras in the entertainment industry, Sehdev found that 50% of the women he surveyed believe having more women-led movies would improve the overall perception of women within society, and another 28% of women say this would positively impact all women’s lives.

Compare this, he says, to responses by men he surveyed: Only 15% of men said that having more women in leading movie roles would do a lot to impact the perception of women, while 31% say this would improve women’s lives to a degree.

In terms of leadership, Sehdev says he found that most people surveyed (74%) perceive female celebs as the same as men in leadership qualities. Younger people are especially likely to hold those views.

“Millennials are the first generation to believe female celebrities are every bit as capable of being powerful leaders as male celebrities,” Sehdev says. “They are the most gender-blind generation we’ve seen. This in combination with the fact that more women in film are unafraid to speak up is causing an extraordinary shift in attitudes.”

Female celebs are also perceived to be more tenacious, more willing to take greater risks, more passionate and compassionate on human rights issues, even more intelligent about connecting with younger audiences.

“Female celebrities are seen to be more digitally savvy and more active in social media, and that increases relevance with younger audiences,” he says.

All demographics surveyed agreed that female celebs over 40 and female celebs of color can be considered desirable and sexy, but Millennials and Gen Xers were especially more likely to agree.

“A turning point for attractiveness, Hollywood women of color and those over 40 are perceived as increasingly desirable as definitions of what is considered sexy continue to change,” Sehdev says.

If these attitudes are increasing among audiences, why does the entertainment industry place the most emphasis on box office returns? Sehdev says it’s inevitably a losing position given the changing attitudes he has found.

“Strong female characters have always been good business at the box office,” he says. “Hollywood has no choice but to recognize this and reinvent itself or it will continue to lose relevance among younger audiences.”

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5 Black Women To Watch In Hollywood In 2017

Be on the lookout for these glow-ups.

Black Voices’ associate editor Taryn Finley and senior culture writer Zeba Blay sat down with Murray, who was also joined by Buzzfeed entertainment reporter Sylvia Obell, to share her perspective as an entertainment insider.

Here are five women Murray said should be on your list of Hollywood up-and-comers to watch in 2017:

1. Gina Prince-Bythewood

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Prince-Bythewood will be co-directing “Shots Fired” with husband Reggie Bythewood.

Best known for her 2000 romance film “Love and Basketball,” starring Sanaa Lathan, Gina Prince-Bythewood is no Hollywood newbie. Prince-Bythewood will be directing the upcoming fictional Fox series “Shots Fired,” which is centered on police brutality in South Carolina. Lathan will also star in the series.

2. Dee Rees

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Rees also directed the film “Pariah,” about a young, black lesbian struggling with her identity in Brooklyn.

In a $12.5 million deal, Netflix recently bought director Dee Rees’ critically acclaimed film “Mudbound.” The film, which follows soldiers returning home from WWII, stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

3. Stella Meghie

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Meghie’s directorial debut “Jean of the Joneses“ premiered last year.

Stella Meghie’s name may not ring a bell just yet, but the Toronto native may soon be at the center of Hollywood’s attention when romance film “Everything, Everything,” starring Amandla Stenberg, is released this May.

4. Jessica Williams

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Williams spoke at the Women’s March on Sundance earlier this year.

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams should have been on your radar yesterday. One half of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast, Williams will be starring in Netflix’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a young playwright living in New York City.

5. Yvonne Orji

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Issa Rae and Orji gained everyone’s affection IRL when a photo of them sharing excitement over the Golden Globes nomination for “Insecure” while in their headscarves made its rounds on the internet.

Yvonne Orji is everybody’s bestie as Molly in “Insecure.” But Orji really won our hearts with her realness when she opened up to “The Breakfast Club” in November about being a virgin at 32 years old and having experienced bullying when she was younger.

Look out, Hollywood. All this black excellence ain’t here to play.

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