My Neighbor, My Killer
, a new movie about the aftermath of the
Rwandan genocide, is winning high praise from critics, and filling
houses at film festivals. Agence-France Presse calls it "superbly shot"
and "a historic document of incalculable value." At the 2009 Human
Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center in New York
City, director Anne Aghion received the Nestor Almendros courage in
filmmaking award, recognizing her decade of work documenting Rwanda’s
painful struggle towards a new beginning.
My Neighbor, My
Killer, like director Anne Aghion's three earlier Rwanda films, is set in a rural community,
Gafumba, where Hutu killers and Tutsi survivors must live together again. She
began filming six years after the 1994 genocide when more than 800,000 people
"Certainly, at the beginning I didn't realize
what I was embarking on, or how hard it would be, or how long it would take,"
Aghion said of the nearly ten years she spent documenting the reconciliation
process called Gacaca, a system of open-air community trials where
victims testified and killers were judged.
Everyone understood the necessity of Gacaca, Aghion
said, to help Rwanda rebuild and survive.
"It's a very densely populated country, the plots of land are very small,
and people see each other every day, all the time, they cross each other going
to get water at the well, or going to plow their fields or whatever, and they
just have to rely on each other so much," she said.
Most of the survivors of
the genocide who speak in the film are women, including Hutu women who were
married to Tutsi men. "So they don't fit anywhere," Aghion said. "They're not
embraced by survivors as being one of them, and they're often rejected by their
own families. Certainly when the killings happened, in some cases it was people
from their family who did the killing, and massacred their husbands and
Sitting in her small
house, Annonciata Mukanyonga tells
the filmmakers how almost every other Tutsi in her community was killed,
including her husband and children.
"Everyone was fleeing and
dying alone," she says. "When I had nowhere left to turn, I returned here to
perish. That's when they killed my children, even the baby off my back. And
they said, 'Leave her alone, she is sadness incarnate. She will die of
When the women face the killers at the Gacaca
hearings, they don't ask for vengeance, only for the truth. The men on trial
try to minimize their role in the genocide, but must accept the verdict of the
judges. Many have already been jailed for years, and are allowed now to return
to the community. Aghion says most
didn't strike her as remorseful. But, she said, "Some are more sort of stone-faced than others. And some of them you get a
sense that they might be reintegrated into society, that the group might be
able to pull them back in."
Aghion says she isn't sure
how successful the Gacaca hearings will be, or if the urge towards ethnic
genocide will ever recur in Rwanda.
"It's too early to tell
whether the Gacaca are going to work over the long term, whether time is taking
its course and things are just calmer in people's hearts and minds," she said. "I just hope this film is seen widely and that it helps a little bit in
bringing about conversation and discussion around issues of coexistence."
Towards that end, Aghion, who lives in New York, she says will soon take My
Neighbor, My Killer to Rwanda, as she has her previous films about Gacaca, to
show to the people she interviewed, and other Rwandans.