The travelling film festival, after much delay, finally got rolling on Wednesday. Our first two stops were scheduled for the outskirts of the city of Bujumbura in communities called Kinama and Kimenge. Then, by some odd coincidence, I came across this on the Burundi section of the Foreign Affairs Canada website: “Rebel attacks on civilians are still occurring in these regions, including in the suburbs of Kinama and Kamenge.” Don’t be fooled by the hat, I’m not actually trying to be a cowboy out here, but we did press on as scheduled. I just thought I should wait until we were done to write about it.
Getting the proper authorization from the all the different levels of government and policing authorities pushed everything back, but was worth the wait. Security still needs to be obtained through bribes and careful negotiations each night, but that routine is fairly predictable. Power is purchased at each location, usually from a nearby restaurant, at a rate that is generous enough that we hopefully don’t “accidentally” lose power half way through the show (which is always a realistic possibility anyway). Our biggest concern is just making sure our set-up and tear-down times don’t test anyone’s patience or boldness to make a move for our stuff (it gets mighty dark, mighty quick out here without streets lights and so forth). But the team of students we’ve recruited to help us are trustworthy and competent, making the whole experience refreshingly enjoyable.
Watching nearly a thousand people pack around our screen each night is incredibly rewarding. From the moment we arrive, a buzz spreads and people start to swarm. I had hoped to deliver flyers to explain what we’re doing and draw a crowd, but with most people being illiterate anyway, we’ve learned the novelty of what we’re doing is more than sufficient. Local music videos precede our films as the sun sets, and then our DJ gets everyone riled up explaining what they are about to see. The Burundi Film Center logo comes on the screen and it’s our turn to sit back. Our eyes on them; their eyes on the screen.
The premiere on Friday was the big test to see how well the films played to a Burundian audience. The response was fantastic, and everyone was pretty forgiving of some glaring sound errors and production goofs. The street audience tends to just have their emotions played like a yo-yo, cheering at both appropriate and inappropriate times, but always glued to the films in their own language, about their own people, shot in recognizable locations. At one point Raymond turned to me laughing and said “these guys don’t even know they’re being educated, they’re just enjoying images.” Seems like a pretty good start to me.