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This film relates the stories of five women who survived the Rwandan
genocide. The filmmakers wisely keep themselves out of the picture and
instead let the women tell their stories in their own words. Their
experiences were so horrific that it's hard to watch without crying.
Yet there's nothing self-pitying in their words-- what happened,
happened, and now they must go on as best as they can. All of these
women are courageous, but I was most affected by the words of a young
girl who became the head of her family at the age of 12 after her
parents were killed. In the years since the genocide, she has devoted
herself to caring for her younger siblings. At the film's end, she
reflects, "I don't think my parents would be happy to see me (spending
her young life raising her brothers and sisters). But I think they
would be proud."
"God Sleeps in Rwanda" is far and away the strongest nominee for Best Documentary Short Subject for 2005.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How this short failed to win the Academy Award for Documentary Short,
I'll never know. At times chillingly matter of fact about the
historical truths and the statistics surrounding the genocide in
Rwanda, ultimately you come away feeling some hope after hearing the
stories of five women who have been given body blows by life and have
managed to not only survive, but to gain ground in a country where
women were little regarded. Because I want to discuss some of the
details, this is a spoiler warning:
The events which took place in Rwanda have already been well-chronicled elsewhere, so I won't say much beyond this-a systematic attempt was made to obliterate an entire tribe, planned in a methodical and deliberate campaign by the Rwandan government in an attempt to consolidate its power and outright murder was not the only weapon they used.
As in most things great and small, the Law of Unintended Consequences showed up in the aftermath here. Given the horrific number of casualties, women are now a significant majority of the population and now hold positions which they could never have obtained prior to the genocide, because it was a male-dominated society. Now, there is no choice-if the jobs aren't filled by women, many of them won't get done.
The women tell their own stories and basically relate them in a very matter of fact tone of voice, even though the stories they tell are almost invariably violent and grisly. They have survived and even thrived in adversity. One story, which is about par for the five which we are shown, touched me a little more because of the last words we hear from the woman, who, in a very self-effacing manner, describes herself as "not wonderful". From her tone and her words, I gather that she doesn't see what she's done and is doing as anything worthy of notice or praise, to which I respectfully disagree. She and all the other survivors profiled are precisely that-"wonderful". I cannot recommend this excellent short more strongly. By all means see it, if you get the opportunity. Most highly recommended.
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