I’m not sure I can explain how unlikely it was that tonight’s gala would be such a massive success. Three hours before the curtain rose, I was honestly curled up in a ball, praying in utter exhaustion that we would even have films to show. After a 36-hour sleepless marathon of video editing and event coordination, technical challenges had me paralyzed with fear when we still couldn’t export the films two hours before the show. Everyone on the team knew that tonight we would either make or break our name in this town. We surprised a lot of people in 2007, but then effectively disappeared for three years. Now we were back and everyone was watching, eager to see if we could live up to our own standard.
Before we started, our M.C. (who created a minute-by-minute schedule) grew increasingly impatient as we waited for people to arrive for our 6:00pm start time. Three years in Burundi and somehow he still hadn’t come to accept African schedules. So by 6:30pm, when he decided he couldn’t wait any longer, we rolled through our introductions to a half filled room. Even our students occupying the front rows were arriving late, so our desired “show of force” began a little light.
The format of the night, however, meant we finished the first film at about 7:00pm and then held one of our many lively Q&A’s with the students. By the end of the second film, the room was so full that the M.C. made a point of getting everyone to turn around and take notice. Most impressive, however, was the crowd’s reaction to the films. People were bursting with laughter during the comedy, buzzing with shock after one film’s twist ending, and tickled with joy when our 78-year-old actor came on stage to make a few inebriated, incoherent comments (after yelling in Kirundi throughout his film; “That’s me! Right there, look!”).
I mentioned in my opening remarks on stage that the films from 2007 played in over 50 international festivals, and extensively in the U.S. – from New York to Hollywood. The idea of some small Burundian films playing in the centre of the film universe seemed surreal and was often referenced as a joke by the M.C. in the early proceedings. After the films played, however, it was a very different vibe. People were not only impressed, but inspired. The energy in the room was electric, and the variety of films shown, including our documentary Home Free(2009), proved we’re well on our way. Afterwards when ambassadors, agencies and the public came to talk to me, the reaction was what every filmmaker dreams of hearing – “we want to work with you”.
When everyone took to the stage, the sense of community and widespread accomplishment honestly felt like a new cultural wave sweeping the country. As everyone attached to the project said afterwards – the BFC has arrived. So even though I’m leaving in a few days, this time we want to make sure the project doesn’t go anywhere. So we celebrated tonight’s success and we’re already planning ways to carry on the momentum.