This is a documentary about the Ingoma Nshya drumming troupe, the first all-female drumming troupe of its kind, whose instrument was originally only played by men. Founded by Odile "Kiki" Katese, Ingoma Nshya started as a constructive, creative outlet for women who were still frozen in their pasts, or looking for ways to break out of them. After meeting Jennie Dundas from Blue Marble Ice Cream in 2009, Kiki came up with the idea of opening an ice cream shop in town, which would not only rejuvenate the town but also provide employment for some of the women. It would also bring the cool sweetness of ice cream, which was a new thing for a majority of the people there, including the women of the troupe.
As we learn more about Kiki and the troupe, and hear their stories, it soon becomes apparent that this film is not just about women, the genocide, ice cream, or drumming. It's about watching what happens when people actively set out to leave the past behind and let life continue. To let new people, experiences, and adventures come in. It's a film about using what you have right here and now, to mend relationships and really imagine the possibilities that lay ahead. That imagining is itself a difficult thing to do after going through the things the women in this film have gone through. Carrying out their dreams is nothing short of extraordinary.
It was a wonderful treat to talk to one half of the brother-sister directing team of Lisa and Rob Fruchtman about what it was like to spend time with the women of Ingoma Nshya.
CR: In an article in Al Jazeera, you mentioned the challenge of gaining the trust of everyone who participated in the film. How were you and Lisa able to establish a relationship with the women and townspeople in general as you carried out the project?
RF: There were two parts to that. Fortunately we had Kiki, who I'd met in New York, to introduce us and say, these are good people, they want to make a film about your lives, so please welcome them. Rwandans in general are very welcoming people, but I don't think they really took us seriously until our second visit. They knew the distance we crossed and the expense involved for us to come, so to come back that second time meant we were for real. When we came the third time, our friendships began to deepen. Here we were again, we talked, we brought gifts, we really established something. Our fourth visit was the most important shoot, because it was the time of the genocide commemoration period. So not only had we spent more time with everyone, but they really began to open themselves up and open their pain up to us. At that point they trusted us more with their stories. It was very important to have that relationship and that trust in place so that we weren't just these white people behind the camera to them.
CR: There is a wonderful montage in the film where the ladies who were training to work at the shop were learning about making ice cream, how business works, and taking English classes during the same period. Did all this activity spur any other projects in the town as word spread about the ladies going into business?
RF: No, but there were other little ventures happening, like a computer class that was being run in town. Alexis and Kiki and some of the others stumbled upon it when they were looking for a location for the ice cream shop, since it was a very nice building. It was open to pretty much anybody for a small fee. But after a few days they opened up the computer class and the English class for anyone who wanted to learn. Interestingly enough, Simon [the English teacher] and his wife had just shown up because they were traveling, and they found the ice cream shop and started talking to the women. They volunteered to stick around and pretty soon they were teaching English.
CR: How has the film affected the ladies at Blue Marble in Brooklyn since its release?
CR: The issue of a nation living with trauma comes up repeatedly in the film. Both Kiki and President Kagame compare it to a body that is just walking around, instead of being a person that is alive and living. There was a moment in the film that captured this really well, where President Kagame was giving his speech during the Mourning Month, encouraging positivity and strength, while some people screamed, cried and fainted in the stands. How did you decide how much of the genocide and how much of the present and ideas for a positive future to include in the film?
CR: Many of the people whose families were involved in committing the killings carry a tremendous feeling of guilt inside them. In the film we meet Regine, who has actively befriended and supported the people who were affected by her family's actions, as well as other victims. How did you learn about her story?
RF: It was easier in some ways for the women who were victims to tell their stories. But for the women whose parents were perpetrators was much more difficult. The conversation with Regine happened at the very end of our filming. We came over to her house for tea, and I brought the camera as I always did and I filmed some stuff, and then she said, I want to tell you something but I want you to turn off the camera. So I turned it off, and she told us her story. It was unbelievable. I said Regine, this is an important story, people need to hear this. Would you mind telling it again, I really think it's important. And she said, oh of course, I didn't think you'd be interested.
CR: What was the best moment for you while making the film, and what was the biggest challenge?
CR: What kind of reactions have people had to the film?
RF: The people who respond well to the film have a lot of empathy. Anyone with a soul would feel for these women, and be happy for them.
Visit the Sweet Dreams website for more on the story behind the film, the incredible women of the Ingoma Nshya drumming troupe, and all the people involved in bringing joy back to Rwanda, one sweet moment at a time.
Rob Fruchtman is an award-winning director, producer and editor. He has won three Emmys and several nominations for his work with PBS and HBO. For more on Rob's work, visit his production company's website, Glass Half Full.
Lisa Fruchtman is a director and Academy Award-winning editor who has worked in both feature film and television.
Go to Blue Marble Ice Cream's website to learn more about their shops.
My thanks again to Rob!