The 600: Tales of Rwandan soldiers

Wednesday July 24 2019

Historical footage of the first arrivals of the reinforcement forces. 'The 600' is an awe-inspiring story of the 3rd battalion of the Rwanda Patriotic Army who were crammed in the Parliamentary building when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out. PHOTO | FAUSTIN KAGAME


You’ve probably seen a movie or documentary about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi before, in Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda 2004 film or the 2018 television drama series Black Earth Rising written and directed by Hugo Blick.
Now you need to watch The 600, a documentary by Richard Hall, an American television producer.

Following its limited public release in Rwandan cinemas early this month, the film has been well received by local audiences.

The 117 minutes documentary is an awe-inspiring story of the 3rd battalion of the Rwanda Patriotic Army who were crammed in the Parliamentary building when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out.

The documentary was released on July 5, the day after the celebration of the 25th official anniversary of Rwanda’s Liberation Day that marked the day when Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi stopped the killings and liberated the country.

The protagonists of the story are the 600 soldiers who were stuck behind enemy lines when the Arusha Peace Agreement collapsed after the fateful plane crash that killed presidents Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi.

The 600 soldiers had accompanied Rwandan Patriotic Front politicians who were coming to join a broad-based transition government in Kigali.


The expansive narrative sees an unexpected turn of events as these 600 soldiers who are encircled and outnumbered against 10,000 government soldiers and 100,000 militia embark on a mission to stop the genocide by rescuing people, defeating the government officers and militia, and restoring order.


UN tankers in Kigali. PHOTO | FAUSTIN KAGAME

The 600 is a story about sacrifice and resilience under pressure. It tackles the sustained horror, the lasting trauma and disorientation of the survivors and soldiers. The film sheds light on their daily tribulations through in-depth interviews with the soldiers.


“After reading and watching material about the genocide, I thought there was a gap. My wife who is Rwandan, and her family would tell me about it. Because her uncles were in the RPA, they would tell me about training in the mountains and how cold and hungry they were.

“They described their experience and I found it to be very moving. After I went to the Campaign against Genocide Museum on a family trip, I felt this was a good story to tell. That is how the idea came about,” says Richard Hall, the executive producer and writer of The 600.

“It took about 18 months to deliver with about six months of research,” said Annette Uwizeye, the co-executive producer.

Despite the familiar plot that some know too well, this fresh take from the soldiers’ perspective corroborated by survivor testimonials lends the story a credible twist. The plot unravels chronologically as it details the genesis of Rwanda’s genocide starting in 1959.

Dramatic recreations without dialogue and historical footage support the overarching theme of the film.

As a returnee who was not quite aware of the Rwanda Patriotic Army’s sacrifice and commitment to liberate the country, I reconsidered my purpose in this fleeting life after seeing the adversity that the Inkontanyi underwent.


The big winner for the documentary was the cast for the dramatic recreations. The 600 features an all Rwandan cast all through the film.

It distinctively features local actors and was shot in location in Rwanda across the places where most of the events happened.
The score

The 600 is adequately scored syncing the dramatic events happening on screen with musical events and sound effects in the score.

The background sound was busy when appropriate, and silent particularly during the sorrowful times. I found the use of Maji Maji’s morale songs (liberation songs during the struggle) as a centre piece during the documentary to be astute.


The use of a rainy neighbourhood at night, an old radio playing on a table, blood dripping off a machete, while skilfully weaving together interviews and archival footage makes to movie gripping to watch.


The Guez Show (a local animation studio) animation sequences smoothly blended with the storyline describing the fateful events when words would fail.

The timing of the character movements was in sync with the narration, adding balance and order to the overall pace of the documentary.

Through this documentary, Richard Hall manages to show the role music played in giving hope and morale to the soldiers and survivors alike. It is aided by Raymond Karago’s melancholic narration of music as a message of hope.

All in all, The 600 excels in proving the notion that by Rwanda telling its own history we stand a better chance at a more truthful story that is all-inclusive and takes into account the pain, trauma and misery that people underwent during those 100 days after April 7, 1994.

The 600 brings to life the Campaign Against Genocide Museum, which was launched on December 13, 2017, where you get to see the hero, Retired Major David Rwabinumi, who has a monument in his honour on top of the parliament building.