Director's Statement

~ Origin of the Project

In the summer of 2006, Samuel Anderson, Jenny Lund, and I taught a summer course in filmmaking and photography at a Christian relief base, YWAM, in Rwanda. Partnering with the organization’s existing work with local street kids and at-risk youths, we produced MUNYRANGABO as a project for a class of fifteen Rwandan students, allowing genocide orphans, returned refugees, the undereducated, and those barely making a living to become the cast and crew of MUNYURANGABO.

~ A Manifestation of our Encounters

Samuel Anderson wrote most of the script back home, with the understanding that the story would evolve to the truths we would eventually discover in Rwanda. After arriving in the country, our script became a nine-page outline, a manifestation of our encounters—from personal stories and concerns to passing conversations and reflections. The minimal outline allowed us to improvise scenes and all of the dialogue.

~ Improvisation

With directing, I am a strong believer in improvisation; I know the general form of the film I want to make, but I’m not sure how I will get from the beginning to the end. This requires a greater level of listening—to surroundings, actors, crew, and inspiration. I don’t think that this immediacy would be available to me if I relied heavily on the writing process. Instead of shaping the reality of the circumstances to that script, improvisation demands the opposite. Working in Rwanda reinforced this approach to filmmaking, since the exotic nature of the location left us with no other choice. As a result, I’ve learned through this film that filmmaking should be a little like jazz, in that one should work with how the materials, circumstances, problems, and epiphanies come; it’s a dynamic process that leaves no room for regret.

~ Recreating Memories

Our cast of non-professional actors inspired many elements of the script, and directing was often a work of recreating their lives. Naturally, this is a film that focuses on memory, a collective one, and it was a quest to discover spiritual elements within memory.

~ Rural Locations

Rwanda has seen a fair number of Western filmmakers who throw large sums of cash around; we simply didn’t have those resources, but the assumption for many city officials was that we had lots of money. We considered filming many of our scenes in the streets of Kigali, but because of bureaucracy (difficulty in getting permits, for example), we focused our story on rural locations.

~ Shot in Eleven Days

Our village location was also quite genuine. We found a location we liked, spoke with the owners of the little house, and even auditioned them for roles. They were remarkable actors, so we decided to give them a large part in the film as the parents of Sangwa. We filmed over the course of eleven days, with the cast and crew all living together and working passionately for this project. It is fair to say that through the experience we became a family—I adopted them, but more accurately, they adopted me.

~ First Feature Film in Kinyarwanda

MUNYUNRANGABO is the first narrative feature film ever made in the Kinyarwanda language. Directing in a foreign country and in a language I do not speak was actually an advantage, forcing me to work as an outsider. This guards against the conveyance of any personal ideas and truths that are relatively minor, allowing, instead, for an exploration of more universal matters that can connect a Korean American with a Rwandan. I hope that this connection would extend to you, the viewer.

~ Return to Kigali

Our new company, Almond Tree Films, continues to labor for Rwandan cinema, hoping that the next Rwandan film to play at Cannes will be directed by a native filmmaker. On the foundation of MUNYURANGABO, we will return to Kigali this summer to establish a cinema school and production center, working for our hope to become a reality.