11 Rwandan Filmmakers You Need to Know About

Views from Mount Kigali | © Leah Feiger
Views from Mount Kigali | © Leah Feiger
Photo of Leah Feiger
11 October 2017

Rwandan filmmaking is on the rise, as young creatives are passionately bringing Rwandan stories to the big screen. Though Rwanda’s cinema industry is small and cannot be compared to that of Hollywood, Bollywood, or Nollywood, Rwandan filmmakers, both in the country and around the world, are forces to be reckoned with. Break out the popcorn and check out our guide to these incredible Rwandan filmmakers you need to know about.

Kantarama Gahigiri

Gahigiri makes films that, in her own words, “create experiences for the audience, make them feel something, make them think.” Born and raised in Switzerland, Gahigiri credits her multicultural background for her different perspectives on the world. Before becoming a director, Gahigiri worked on well-known shows and movies such as Men in Black 3, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Suits, and Portlandia. As a director, her recent and well-known projects include Tapis Rouge, ME + U, Pinot in the Grass, The Elevator, Check, and Lost Angel Less. Her critically acclaimed films have been screened worldwide and won many awards, most recently including the Award of Merit from IndieFest Film Awards in Los Angeles (2017), the Best Animated Short Award from Berlin Independent Film Festival (2017), the Festival Award from Festival Effervescence in France (2016), and the Best Directing Award from the Chelsea Film Festival in New York (2015). She is also passionate about making the film industry more accessible. As the godmother of Mashariki African Film Festival in Kigali, she leads writing, directing, and production workshops around the world in order to support and assist young filmmakers. Watch out for her next project, a science-fiction feature film that takes place in East Africa, that she hopes will change the often downtrodden cinematic narrative of the continent.

Kantarama Gahigiri | Courtesy of Kantarama Gahigiri

Jean Luc Habyarimana

Habyarimana does not shy away from films with complex and, at times, difficult subject material. Raised in Rwanda, he has been making films since 2006. While growing up, he noted that his own Rwandan culture and identity was rarely shown on screen, and his films attempt to change general perceptions and encourage further dialogue about Rwandan and African identities and stories. His film SAA-IPO (2010) was shot in the city of Kigali and funded by the Tribeca Film Institute. It premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and was also screened at the Durban International Film Festival and AfryKamera International Film Festival in Poland. His newest and first feature film, Black Belgian, has already screened at ZIFF and Festival du Film Africain de Khouribga in Morocco. His upcoming project focuses on the African diaspora and immigration.

Jean Luc Habyarimana | Courtesy of Jean Luc Habyarimana

Marie Clementine Dusabejambo

Kigali-born Dusabejambo is quickly becoming known as a rising star in film. She has been a filmmaker since 2008, working on both documentaries and feature films, and has produced Lyiza, Behind the Word, and A Place for Myself. Lyiza, her first film, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Bronze Tanit in 2012 at the Carthage Film Festival. The film examines stories of genocide, memory, and reconciliation, and was also screened in several other international festivals. Since then, Dusabejambo’s films have picked up many other awards, including the Thomas Sankara Award at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso (FESPACO) in 2017, the Golden Dhow award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) in 2017, and another Bronze Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival in 2016. She currently has a couple of projects in the works, one of which will be premiered at ZIFF in 2018.

Marie Clementine Dusabejambo | Courtesy of Marie Clementine Dusabejambo

Shyaka Kagame

Previously known in Geneva’s hip-hop and rap scene and born to Rwandan parents in Switzerland, Kagame works to tell stories centered around the intersection between racial and cultural identity, as well as self-exploration. Kagame’s recent movie Bounty (2017), an interrogation of the identity of first-generation, black Swiss citizens, has been screened throughout Switzerland to great acclaim, and shown at the Cinéma d’Afrique Festival in Lausanne. His documentaries are monumentally expressive, and he is currently working on a project titled Digital Hills, that examines Rwanda today through new technologies.

Shyaka Kagame | Courtesy of Shyaka Kagame

Eric Kabera

Kabera, known as ‘the father of cinema’ in Rwanda, is globally considered to be one of Rwanda’s most celebrated filmmakers. His experiences in the Rwandan genocide led to the feature film titled 100 days (2001), created alongside filmmaker Nick Hughes, and a documentary titled Keepers of Memory (2004). Both of these projects explored the nature of the genocide, and closely engaged with victims, survivors, and perpetrators. He is also known for Through My Eyes, Intore, and Africa United, a feature film about three Rwandan youths that journey to the World Cup. Kabera’s films have been shown around the world at many different festivals. He has been recognized by the Director’s Guild of America, and was also the recipient of the Pan African Film Festival’s African Creative Visionary Award in 2012. In Kigali, Kabera founded the Rwanda Cinema Centre, an organization that works to promote and encourage Rwanda’s film industry, he helps manage the Kwetu Film Institute, and is the chairman of the Rwanda Film Festival.

Cynthia Butare

Born and raised in Switzerland, Butare is now based in Rwanda after several years of studying digital communication and documentary-making in the United Kingdom. Her first documentary, an award-winning examination of black women’s relationship with hair, titled KICKIN’ IT WITH THE KINKS, was shown in Rwanda, the UK, the United States, France, Belgium, Nigeria, and more. She recalls growing up and rarely seeing her reality as a black African woman living in Europe represented on screen, and refers to the standard African narrative as “insufficiently nuanced.” Though her work has recently been focused on short video productions for NGOs and other marketing clients, her passion and prowess for documentaries is one to watch. Recently, Butare completed a five-episode series on Collective Rw, a fashion collective of local designers and creatives in Kigali, and her second documentary, Ishimwa: From Bloodshed to Grace, was shown at the Rwanda Film Festival. Butare is currently working on a documentary series titled Coming (Back) Home, a collection of stories and experiences about the return of the diaspora back to Rwanda.

Cynthia Butare | Courtesy of Cynthia Butare

Kivu Ruhorahoza

Ruhorahoza, an established Rwandan director, writer, and producer, got his start working with renowned filmmaker Eric Kabera as a production assistant in 2004. Since then, his career has skyrocketed. He is known for his feature film titled Grey Matter (2011), a difficult piece that follows two siblings dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after the Rwandan genocide. Ruhorahoza won the Best Director Award at the Tübingen-Stuttgart International French-language Film Festival and the Jury Special Prize at the Khouribga Film Festival in Morocco for the film. It was screened around the world in Australia, Poland, Dubai and more, and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He has also received acclaim for his first film, a short titled Confession, and his second film, Lost in the South. His most recent project is titled Things of the Aimless Wanderer, and it investigates the relationships and perceptions between Rwandans and Westerners. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the new frontier program, and was shown at film festivals in Durban, Sydney, Singapore, and Rotterdam.

Armand Kajangwe

Inspired by the medium of film itself, Kajangwe is known throughout Kigali for his collaborative, creative, and story-telling projects. He has done feature films, short films, and music videos, and is known for his work on The Asylum (2010), Journal.rw, and Dirty Singles. As the executive director of Journal.rw, he creates short documentary films about creative and innovative initiatives and individuals across the country. Noting his Rwandan influence, Kajangwe sees himself as a keen listener and observer, and actually created The Asylum, a short film about a Rwandan woman arriving in Canada, that touched on his own experiences. Kajangwe currently has several projects on the books for next year, and is excited by the small but growing Rwandan film industry.

Armand Kajangwe | Courtesy of Armand Kajangwe

Samuel Ishimwe Karemangingo

One of Rwanda’s most youthful and exuberant filmmakers, Karemangingo is adding much to the cinematic industry and community in the country today. As a young cinephile, Karemangingo had always been passionate about film and using it to communicate, inspire, and excite. Noting the challenges that face the growth of Rwandan cinema—like limited cinemas in Kigali and around the country, the lack of funding, and few training opportunities—Karemangingo is still very hopeful about the collective creative energy in the country that will elevate Rwanda’s cinema scene. His recent style has focused on a blend of fiction and documentary, and he likes co-creating with the actors in his films. His films include Crossing Lines (2014), Uruzi (2014), and Imfura (2017). Uruzi was screened during the Luxor African Film Festival, and Crossing Lines was shown at the Durban International Film Festival, the Afrika Filmfestival of Leuven (where he won the Guido Huysmans Young African Film Maker Award), and Africa in Motion in Scotland. It won awards at FESTICAB in Burundi and the Mashariki African Film Festival in Rwanda. He is currently developing a feature film, and is also part of a fellowship program with Amplify to develop online video content.

Samuel Ishimwe Karemangingo | Courtesy of Samuel Ishimwe Karemangingo

Philbert Aimé Sharangabo Mbabazi

Mbabazi has been a filmmaker since 2010, and recently returned to Kigali after several years of study at the Geneva School of Art and Design in Switzerland. He felt the need to get involved in the industry after watching many films about Rwanda that excluded Rwandans from key artistic positions. According to Mbabazi himself, he makes “films about realities I go through, films about my desires and fantasies, hoping that there’s someone out there who could identify with it.” He has worked on a number of films, including Ruhago, City Dropout, Things of the Aimless Wanderer, The Liberators, Versus, and Keza Lynn. In 2012, Mbabazi won the Signis Award for Emerging Filmmaker at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, and in 2014 won the Silverback Award for Best Short Film at the Rwanda Film Festival. His films have also been screened at several prestigious, international festivals, such as the Oberhausen Short Film Festival, Tampere Short Film Festival, Uppsala Short Film Festival, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur Festival, and more. He is currently working on a feature film titled Republika, to be set in Geneva, as well as The Random Story of Masud, a feature film set in Kigali.

Philbert Aimé Sharangabo Mbabazi | Courtesy of Philbert Aimé Sharangabo Mbabazi

Amelia Umuhire

Umuhire, though Rwandan-born and German-raised, has spent a lot of time transforming her thoughts of identity, history, and culture into film. Her web series, Polyglot, a project about the lives of black creative artists in Berlin, explores these intersections within an increasingly hostile global context. Polyglot has been shown internationally at Film Africa in London, the Tribeca Film Festival, Premiers Plans D’Angers Festival, and the Geneva International Film Festival (where it won Best International Web Series in 2015). Umuhire’s recent film, Mugabo (2016), is a short and experimental film about her experiences and perceptions of genocide survival and the subsequent return home. Mugabo premiered at Film Africa Festival in London in 2016, and won the Best Experimental Film Award in 2017 at the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia.

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