This is a story about a group of women who figured out how to forge extreme joy out of unimaginable pain and create sweetness out of bitterness. They are the women of Rwanda who recognized that their whole population was still traumatized after the horrors of the 1994 genocide when the Hutus launched a massive slaughter of their traditional enemies, the Tutsis, which left over a million dead and pitted neighbor against neighbor. Once the killing and raping were over - the country began rebuilding and is considered a success vis a vis much of sub-Saharan Africa. They have a democratically elected president who has been very proactive in his efforts to build a new and better Rwanda. But as Kiki Katese, one of the women we meet in the film who is a theatre director, so eloquently says: “People are are not like roads and buildings. How do we rebuild a human being?”
The people were still haunted by what they had seen and/or done, the losses they had suffered, the pain they could still feel, the shame, resentment and the lingering distrust of each other. She describes them as being dead inside and unable to experience any pleasure in their lives. So she devised the concept of a women’s drumming troupe - to be made up of women from both sides. The only requirement was that they must leave their prejudices and old alliances behind and begin to form new relationships. This was doubly bold as drumming was traditionally never practiced by women. But what she accomplished was something remarkably healing. She created a safe place for them to come together and express themselves and to find joy. And what a powerful creative energy they unleashed. They bonded with each other and found purpose and a way to forget by virtue of replacing some of the sadness of the past with something pure, joyful and cathartic. Their exuberant ecstatic performances are contagious and bring a new and positive energy wherever they go. It has been transformative.
Emboldened by the success of this effort Kiki devised a new plan to help themselves economically. She teamed up with Jennie and Alexis of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream to bring soft ice cream to Rwanda. It is unclear how that connection was made. But what is very clear is that she found the right partners. They rose to the challenge of bringing something cold and unknown to a very hot and underdeveloped country. They arranged to have the necessary equipment delivered and gave the women training in running an ice cream shop and a business and generally shepherded the whole process to its triumphant opening.
This is a wonderful story of empowerment, self-actualisation, tenacity and vision which can be enlightening to us all. It is also gut-wrenching as the women tell their individual stories of the genocide. In spite of some very graphic descriptions of truly horrendous acts what one is left with is the uplifting part. The good emphatically overbalances the bad. And the music and dancing are beyond infectious. When they invite the male drumming troupe from Burundi to join them it is a scene of unforgettable exhilaration and celebration.
The producer/directors, Rob and Lisa Fruchtman, a brother and sister team bring a lot of talent to this project. She is an Academy Award winning film editor and has worked on many major feature films. Rob has directed, produced and edited a raft of wide-ranging documentaries and won three Emmy Awards for his work with PBS. The film’s executive producers, Russell Long and Tiffany Schauer are both environmental activists. They have produced something so worthwhile and at the same time so enjoyable that it should be in school curriculums and on everyones must-see list.
Review by Belle McIntyre
All images via www.sweetdreamsrwanda.com