What happens when eccentric 75-year-old Ivy-League professor Andrew Garrod travels to Kigali, Rwanda, in order to bring together orphans of the 1994 genocide by casting them in a stage production of “Romeo and Juliet”? The first feature documentary Rwanda & Juliet, by the Canadian Ben Proudfoot, has the answer.
The first part of the film is centered on the white professor, who wants to make a difference in the lives of the struggling people of Rwanda. His intention is to bring Shakespeare into countries that suffered genocide (right now he in Bosnia). He joins forces with the community leaders before he approaches the young people. They wisely decide to set the play in three languages: 60% in Kinyarwanda, 20% in French and 20% in English.
The auditions revealed that boys and girls are technically unprepared but they realise that the play “will be something huge and forbidden”. Rwandans still find it very difficult to talk about one of the most fulminant genocides in History – in just 100 days in 1994, some 800,000 Tutsi people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists. For these people, it might be easy conveying feeling of hate on stage, but there is a lot of work to do in order to achieve some professionalism. The company director Andrew Garrod is an idealistic man. In the middle of the project, a sponsor drops out, which makes it impossible for them to pay the actors.
Garrod behaves like most of the company directors: he is a little bit tyrannical. Only three days before the first presentation the Black cast decides to go on strike, claiming that there will be nothing left after the white people go back to the US and Canada. There is plenty of fear in the air.
Proudfoot doesn’t capture the moment when the cast reverts their decision to stop. The film then becomes more engaging because the focus turns to the kids. They are filmed giving their testimonies in the rural areas of Kigali, where they were raised and saw their relatives killed. There are ethical and moral issues at staging Shakespeare at such pace, and reconciling with past.
In the end, experience turns out to be very positive. It seems that the young actors had a chance to make peace with themselves. The young Juliet — the beautiful, passionate and headstrong Tete — chooses to become a professional actress. Rwanda & Juliet is a compassionate film about the power of art. Prodfoot leaves to the very end the revelation of a moving metaphor of people from Rwanda.
The film is showing at Sheffield Doc/Fest, which DMovies is following live right now.
You can also watch the film trailer below: