'Ishimwa' holds its own in dealing with emotional healing

Tuesday April 19 2022
Ishimwa Film Documentary

A scene from the documentary film "Ishimwa" by Cynthia Butare. PHOTO | POOL


Many films dwell on the 1994 Genocide against The Tutsi and its effects whereas, not all of them became mainstream like Hotel Rwanda, Sometime in April and Shooting Dogs. However, they still remain profound, almost three decades after the killings.

One such is Ishimwa: From Bloodshed to Grace, a 15-minute documentary by Cynthia Butare which addresses loss, despair and belonging.

As Rwandans worldwide commemorate the 28th anniversary of the genocide, these are some of the real issues facing both survivors and perpetrators.

Released in 2013, it tells the story of Ishimwa Muhamanyi’s struggle to overcome his past, from witnessing the killing of his mother to having to bear with his father’s struggle of single-parenthood in the UK, before returning to discover Rwanda.

Finding redemption

He comes to terms with the history of his homeland and finds redemption in ballet.


Muhamanyi is a 24-year-old, UK-based ballet dancer who narrates the aftermath of the genocide that forced his family to flee Rwanda for the UK.

Ishimwa recounts the tough times of single parenting from his father, who was working full-time to support the family, leaving Muhamanyi with only the children across the street as his companion.

But the sombre scene is when he narrates the last time he saw his mother. Though he was barely 10 years then and the killings had reduced, nevertheless militias stormed a Hutu sympathiser’s house, where they were hiding, and his mother was taken.

Helpless and innocent, he cried begging for his mother’s forgiveness because he thought she had been mistaken for a thief. The harrowing experience pushed him into depression, and he was admitted to a mental hospital and diagnosed as being bipolar.

Ishimwa is, however, grateful that he lived to tell of his experience. Coinciding with poetry and music, he uses ballet as an escape, soothing space, and for healing.