YWAM students take Rwanda film to Cannes

YWAM students take Rwanda film to Cannes May 28, 2007

Robert Koehler of Variety reviews Munyurangabo at Cannes:

Like a bolt out of the blue, Korean American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung achieves an astonishing and thoroughly masterful debut with “Munyurangabo,” which is — by several light years — the finest and truest film yet on the moral and emotional repercussions of the 15-year-old genocide that wracked Rwanda. Pic’s supremely confident, simple storytelling and relaxed, slightly impressionist visual style follow a conflict that emerges between two friends as one makes a long-delayed homecoming. This is — flat out — the discovery of this year’s Un Certain Regard batch, and deserves loving care from arthouse distribs after a liberating and fruitful fest tour. . . .

The sheer confidence and artistic will that 28-year-old Chung exercises here can’t be overstated, especially in contrast to the few short films of little or no note he made during his brief stint as a Yale film student, and the fact that he wasn’t even planning to make a feature while teaching at a Christian relief camp in Rwanda. . . .

The Salt Lake Tribune adds some interesting details about Chung, who studied film at the University of Utah, and his team:

Chung shot the film in 11 days last summer, when he traveled to Kigali, Rwanda with former U. classmate Jenny Lund and screenwriter Samuel Anderson to teach a course in filmmaking and photography at Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a non-denominational Christian relief base. The 15 students served as the film’s crew. . . .

“Munyurangabo” is the first feature-length narrative made in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s primary language, which Chung doesn’t speak. He relied on a translator to communicate with the two street kids he cast as his stars, both of whom he found through YWAM’s soccer-outreach program. . . .

Chung, Lund and Anderson’s production company, Almond Tree Films, will return to Kigali next summer to encourage Rwanda’s native population to learn filmmaking. They also plan to donate the film’s proceeds to Rwanda, Lund said: “After we cover costs, it’s going to be donated to YWAM and various other organizations for scholarships and development.”

Youth with a Mission, you might recall, was founded by a married couple whose son, David L. Cunningham, went on to direct a few independent films before moving on to more mainstream projects, such as the upcoming The Dark Is Rising. Could be interesting to see what other budding filmmakers they have in their ranks.

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