The story of genocide has been told mostly with documentaries focusing on the actual events and testimonies of victims and communities.
Now filmmakers François Xavier, Marie Thomas-Penette and Joris Postema have taken the story to the football pitch. As a popular sport, football has always played a role in the cultural, social and political history of Rwanda.
Their documentaries premiered this July at the Rwanda Film Festival. In Football Rwanda—Fields of Memories, Mr Xavier and Mr Thomas-Penette focus on former Rayon Sport player Eugene Murangwa, who survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
He was saved by his teammates and managed to go into exile to Europe at the age of 21, a time when he was captain of the national team.
While other Tutsi footballers were massacred, Eugene said it was by sheer chance that he still has an opportunity to live and tell a story of surviving the genocide through football.
Today, Eugene is working with his former teammates to create bonds between the two generations, in a team dubbed “The Dream Team.”
He says being a sportsman to him is a history that he cannot understand how as many as 11,000 people were killed in a football stadium.
“It’s significant to have a memorial like this near primary school and a church, which is a mix of our past history and the future. How these children will leave with this history is a challenge…dealing with the past and shaping the future is what represents Rwanda today but it’s no easy task,” he says.
FC Rwanda, produced by Joris Postema, focuses on the two most popular football teams— APR and Rayon Sport, the former representing the new generation of Rwandans and the latter founded in the 1960s representing the colonial times.
The story of reconciliation takes centrestage as Joris speaks to various players in both teams to find out what or how Rwanda has been able to reconcile, especially on the football fields.
“I chose football because it is a big and popular sport. And it was very interesting to take a look at the army’s team, APR and at the people’s team, Rayon Sports because they are so different in a way, especially when it comes to reconciliation,” says Joris.
The documentary highlights the differences that divided Rwandans based on stereotypes. But it also advocates tolerance, acceptance and reconciliation besides dialogue and openness.
“At the pitch, Rwandans celebrate victories of one team over another just like any other community. It is not easy to see the traces of genocide, or divisions when it comes to football in Rwanda,” says one young player Hurbert Manzi, a former APR defender.