Africa, as advertised

At night if you didn’t know better, you’d think you were flying into Kigali upside down. Rwanda’s capital sparkles with thousands of individual lights that simulate the perfect celestial sky. There are no highways, skyscrapers or grid-like urban planning – just rolling hills that give the darkness a depth and beauty of a galaxy près-de-chez-nous. Fitting, since even on my third trip here in four years, I still often feel like I’m landing in another world.


First thing in the morning, however, it was down to business. Today was the final day of the Rwanda Film Festival and I was asked to teach a TV advertising workshop to about a dozen students. As I explained to them, even directors in Hollywood work on commercials between projects to help them make a living. The fact Rwanda only has one national television station was beside the point. The tips I gave could all translate into making good short films – keeping the message simple, telling the story visually and making sure every shot says something.

I walked them through the entire process of creating commercials using samples from my work at Acart Communications in Ottawa. So I broke down what makes up an advertising agency in North America (creatives and client services), then showed them the steps and format to write for TV, create animated storyboards and finally the finished product. The fact I used mainly Government of Canada commercials as samples, like our Elder Abuse and 72 Hours “Get Prepared” campaigns, also made them laugh. “Wow, your government cares so much about your people,” one student told me. “It is very different here.”

Overall, I tried to keep things basic and relevant, giving them ideas for how to break into an industry that otherwise seems exclusive and, well, alien. I explained that creating spec TV spots (fake commercials) or exciting “pitch” videos for clients is a good way to start. See there’s often a “catch 22” for working in film and TV –you need to have already done it in order to do it. But everyone has to start somewhere. And knowing how to take that first step yourself can end up being a giant leap in your career.

Christopher Redmond