Screen Tests and Close-Ups

Blog 23


A lot of the finer points of the Burundi Film Center are overlooked when I write these blogs. The main narrative of what we’re doing tends to dominate the details and I have a feeling the real flavour of the project is often lost as a result.  For example, last night the whole world turned against us – we lost power, people weren’t showing up because of the poor location and then it started to rain (for only the second time in the two months since we’ve been here).  The whole night was a loss and has to be rescheduled to recuperate some costs and advertising dollars, which complicates all sorts of other things, including me trying to squeeze in a small holiday at the end of this. Add on top the fact the team is quickly evaporating  - Sabrina flew home last week, Raymond left to Kigali yesterday and Bridget leaves Burundi tomorrow - and I’m feeling just slightly overwhelmed wrapping everything up (we’re only halfway through the festival I should add).  We have more than enough drama to satisfy what I hope are concise entries, but I’ll step back for a minute to paint some particulars.


The advertisers come each night to put up banners, make sure their commercials actually get played and that we get a large enough audience.  All this happens as we race against an unforgiving sunset, rush to satisfy all the local authorities and rope in local amenities. We’ve learned to change locations in a hurry if we don’t have at least 30-40 people crowd around us during set-up, a last minute decision we’ve already made twice (which is like hitting the reset button for all the work we had done up to that point). Even if the advertisers weren’t there breathing down our neck, it would still be a shame to not have large audiences.  Hearing people of all ages cheer and gasp during the films is the renewable energy that powers the whole operation. 


Our screen deserves a moment of recognition.  I mentioned how we weren’t able to get the inflatable one from Rwanda, but failed to explain how that meant Raymond had to have one built from scratch the night before the premiere.  The 12’ x 10’ design is simple but highly effective, and we’re able to put the whole thing together in about 10-15 minutes, depending if the butter knives we use as screwdrivers hold-up. We always have to find chairs to prop it higher off the ground so everyone can see and then find a way to let the people hear who sit behind the screen (there are dozens each night for some reason).  When kids aren’t getting swatted with sticks by police for getting too close to our stuff, I can often find them looking at me with big smiles and “thumbs up” approval (at least I’m hoping the thumbs up means the same thing here…).


The festival has even started to attract groupies.  A few guys from the first screenings are making a point to follow us to each location they enjoy the films and project so much.  They have their work cut out for them as we uproot and migrate with almost no notice, but so far they have persisted.  Halfway through the festival, now I’ve got to do the same.


Christopher Redmond