While in Johannesburg pursuing an accounting degree, Annette Uwizeye landed a gig as an extra in a film shoot, from which she made some pocket money but the movie business didn’t appear as glamorous as she had imagined it.
Another gig presented itself, this time to record “additional dialogue” in finalisation of a film at its editing and post-production phase.
Small as they were, these gigs seemed exciting, not just as art, but also as a respectable profession. The experience sparked a fire for film and story-telling in Uwizeye, leading her to drop accounting for a four-year course in motion picture production at the Pretoria Film and TV School, at Tshwane University.
After the course, she returned to Rwanda and in the first years of her return as a film maker, the industry seemed opaque and impenetrable.
She settled for volunteer work then that was fragmented, underfunded and basic. Most filmmakers made money from the short, low budget films they made by selling them on DVD, a business model which wasn’t sustainable and exposed the industry to many risks.
Ms Uwizeye needed to make ends meet, so she opened a company, Awize media, and ventured into production of visual advertisement content. She also worked on some big events like the World Economic Forum in Rwanda.
Much as she wanted to start making films, the terrain was dodgy and discouraging, and even the few films made were being bootlegged easily, their makers barely retaining any money.
In 2015, thanks to the annual Diversity Programme, she got an opportunity at the Producers Guild of America in Los Angeles, where she learned more about the film industry. In the three months spent in Hollywood, she also benefited from an internship placement by Act One Inc, a Christian non-profit, where she enrolled for the Producing and Entertainment Executive Programme.
This experience opened Uwizeye’s eyes, and among the things she learned was the necessity of having an ecosystem that brings all the basic pieces of film-making together — a missing element in Rwanda’s visual arts industry.
Upon her second return, she opened Nano Studios, which has become a home for film makers, photographers, comedy productions, to book publishers.
For years, Rwandan broadcasters have clamoured for well-produced TV content, but the creatives could not produce this partly because they lacked cohesion and studios with at least basic facilities.
Through Awize Media, Uwizeye has worked with local and international productions and actors, exposing her to how high-level producers operate.
The highlight of these engagements was when she worked with megastar Morgan Freeman, when he was in Rwanda producing a National Geographic series The Story of Us. She also worked with Hollywood actor Isaiah Washington when he came for a project in Kigali.
In 2018, Uwizeye had her breakthrough in film production, when she co-produced The 600, a documentary movie about how despite being trapped behind enemy lines in Parliament while the 1994 genocide raged, the RPA undertook dare-devil rescue missions to save lives of Tutsis across Kigali.
Directed by Richard Hall, a Hollywood producer and director, it was screened in Kigali, is now distributed on Amazon and is soon coming to My Movies Africa.
Her goal in the next 10 years is to tell African stories starting with Rwanda, through quality film productions.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 20, 2021.