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COVID-19 and Film in Rwanda

Hamwe Festival

Introduction: Kigali in 2020

The Rwandan Ministry of Health announced the first case of COVID-19 in Rwanda in March 2020. Following that, Rwandans and the inhabitants of Kigali, the capital city, experienced significant transformations at the community and individual level due to prevention measures such as confinement, limited social gathering, and curfews. As in other countries, the virus and the regulations it generated did not affect everyone equally and exposed a wide range of systemic inequities impacting people’s health, livelihood, and safety.

UGHE commissioned four filmmakers to tell the stories of Kigalians during this challenging time. The four short films proposed by Mutiganda wa Nkunda, Sharon Kalimba, Ines Girihirwe, and Ganza Moise discuss the loss of jobs in the informal sector, gender-based violence, mental health, and damage to the social fabric generated by the regulations implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

These films force us to reflect on the vulnerabilities present in our socio-economic systems. With approaches ranging from subtle to straightforward, all four films raise awareness of the socio-economic determinants of health that are at the root of the stubborn health inequities that are seen globally but information on which is sometimes suppressed. The films evidence that there will be no “health for all” without social protection for home workers and better mental health education.

A storytelling approach was chosen to spread this message, the behaviour and experience of the characters informing the debate around health equity, their stories bringing to life the critical issues described by statistics. We asked for Kigalians with a story to tell, and we were served! Clare, Bosco, Claudine, and the others are the Kigalians of 2020.


Director: Ganza Moise

Director’s bio: Ganza Moise is an independent filmmaker. He is also the co-founder of Kiruri MFN, an independent production company based in Kigali. Since 2015, he has directed over six short films and co-directed a feature film in post-production. His films have been screened in various film festivals around the world. His latest audiovisual piece Sensory Overload had its world premiere at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival (2021), where it won a Special Jury Mention.

Producers: Deve Shema

Actors: Yves Peter Kijyana, Liliane Irakunda, Yvan Hervé Butera

Film Summary: David is a moto driver in Kigali. “That’s how life is, you have to earn your bread,” says David on the phone to a friend, “a motorcycle today equals a cow back in the monarchy. A long time ago, you see, when you were from a poor family, you would travel far away to become a servant. You would work and be rewarded a cow each year. After some time, you would own a herd of cattle.” A picture of a cow hangs on the wall of David’s home: a reminder that he is locked down and unable to work, that his motorbike no longer functions as a symbol of his labour and earnings. Lockdown is, for David, something which threatens his livelihood and his ability to support his family back home as well as something which affects him on a psychological level – he longs for social contact, a chat, or shared meals with friends.

Muzunga is being show at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival from April 30th. More information here.

Claire X Bosco

Director: Mutiganda wa Nkunda

Director’s bio: Mutiganda wa Nkunda is a Rwandan self-taught filmmaker and a former film  journalist. Having worked on TV series and films, his films focus primarily on women’s struggles in contemporary Rwanda.

His debut feature film Nameless won the Best Screenplay Award at FESPACO 2021,  and he is in post-production of his second feature film which was selected to take part in the Atlas Workshops of Marrakech Film Festival in Morocco, post-production pitching forum.

As a producer, his feature film A Taste of Our Land won the Best First Narrative feature film award at the PanAfrican Film Festival 2020 and was nominated in two categories at AMAAs 2021, winning Best First Feature Film.

Producers: Mutiganda wa Nkunda

Actors: Cecile Niyonsenga, Yves Peter Kijyana

Film Summary: Claire is a young woman working as a housemaid for a rich family in Kigali. As COVID-19 emerges in Rwanda and a national lockdown is announced, Claire is fired by her employer and told to go back home to her mother and child in the countryside. One less mouth for the family to feed. Claire can’t face going back. She fears she would be a disappointment and a burden to her mother, especially during these uncertain times. So she decides to move in with a man. This man is in love with Claire, though she is not in love with him. She must now tolerate his romantic and sexual advances in order to remain in Kigali, in the hopes that when the lockdown is lifted she can go back to work and reclaim her independence.

Call It A Day

Director: Inès Girihirwe

Director’s bio: Inès Girihirwe is a film writer and director based in Kigali, Rwanda. Breaking Ground (2020) was her first film.  Her work is inspired by different aspects of life, especially our innermost struggle.

Producers: Inès Girihirwe, Remy Ryumugabe, Deve Shema

Actors: Linda Nkusi, Yves Peter Kijyana, Becky Mucyo, Joseline Zaninka, Hamida Uwimana, Emery Chantal Uwimbabazi, Rongin Irunga

Film Summary: The traditional wedding ceremony of Niyonkuru Innocent (28) and Karangwa Claudette (25) is halfway through when police interrupt it because of COVID-19 restrictions. A small crowd of the wedding guests is being gathered outside to wait for the bus that will transport them to where they will be held in police custody. In shock at how the whole event is turning out, Claudette, while being consoled by her mother, confesses that she feels some relief as she was having second thoughts about the wedding.


Director: Sharon Urusaro Kalimba

Director’s bio: Sharon Urusaro Kalimba is a Rwandese screenwriter and journalist by profession. She focuses on educational storytelling through art, film and short stories. She is an enthusiast and member of the poetry and spoken word community in Rwanda. She is passionate about stylistic and inclusive creative work.

Producers: Sharon Urusaro Kalimba

Actors: Yves Peter Kijyana, Odile Uwera

Film Summary: Two characters – male and female, both in their twenties – go through their everyday life before the arrival of Covid. One of them is one semester away from finishing college, the other has just started life as a visual artist. They seem to be doing well and are quite excited for their future. They connect in different settings throughout the documentary and form a warm friendship. Their journeys are cut short as soon as changes are made all around the country and they both have to figure out a way to not give up. In this short documentary, they tell of their rising uncertainty and thoughts of giving up on their dreams. In the end, we find them striving to succeed against the odds.