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Jennifer Merin

Documentaries in the Real World: An Update And Plea From Kigali

By August 17, 2011

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Documentaries and documentary filmmakers do make a difference in the real world. And, to the extent that you support documentary filmmakers and the subjects they bring to your attention, so do you.

For example, following the release of Lucy Walker's Wasteland, a documentary showing the transformative effects an art project had on the lives of Rio de Janiero's catadores (garbage pickers), the art produced in the film was auctioned, raising tens of thousands of dollars to be used for education, health care and other essential social services in the community that participated in the art project and film.

In Granito: How To Nail A Dictator, filmmaker Pamela Yates moves the wheels of justice in the right direction with her extraordinary camera work that caught Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Rios Montt in the act of genocide. The footage she shot decades ago for a previous documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, is, as we see in Granito now being used as evidence in the international effort to Rios Montt to trial. The film is galvanizing activists to call for punishment of Rios Montt.

And, after Joe Berlinger's Crude, covering the lawsuit brought by Amazonian indigenous people against Exxon for polluting their pristine homelands, brought attention to pressing environmental and human rights issues, the film's outtakes and the filmmaker's first amendment rights became the subject of a first amendment rights lawsuit initiated by Exxon. The documentary-viewing public contributed to Berlinger's defense fund via Kickstarter, a crowdfunding resource used to raise monies for documentary films and related projects.

Now, another urgent Kickstarter campaign has been initiated by filmmaker Anne Aghion, whose My Neighbor, My Killer bears witness to Rwanda's intensely challenging post-genocide reconciliation and reconstruction process.

Taking her role as documentarian to another level, Aghion is in Rwanda to help build the IRIBA Center as a repository for historical documentation about Rwanda, including a huge cache of footage shot during the ten years she was on location in the country.

"We're building the IRIBA Center to establish a comprehensive archive for films, as well as other media and all forms of historical documentation showing Rwandan history -- not only the genocide, but putting the genocide into historical context -- so Rwandans can see how their country and their common identity took shape, Our belief is that having access to their history is a basis for their thought for the future," Aghion comments by phone from Kigali.

Aghion and IRIBA Center Director Assumpta Mugiraneza plan to open the center in 2012 in Kigali, in a building that has already been pledged by the French Embassy.

It's fair to consider the IRIBA Center's establishment as an aspect of My Neighbor, My Killer's legacy. Like that documentary, the IRIBA Center project requires funding from foundations, international organizations and private investors -- like you.

Recently, Aghion announced that the IRIBA Center project received its first international grant from the Netherlands-based OXFAM-NOVIB foundation, which signed on for €25,000 ($35,000).

"The OXFAM-NOVIB grant is a very important recognition for IRIBA Center, as is the contribution from the French Embassy. These will encourage other funders to follow. We're meeting with other foundations and government agencies. But our Kickstarter fundraising campaign is of immediate concern. We have four days -- until Sunday -- to raise our targeted goal. We're within a few thousand dollars of the $40,000 target, but unless we reach or exceed it, we get none of the funds that have already been pledged. So, we're making a huge push to get people to contribute before Sunday. We know it's a worthy cause. We believe we'll make the goal," says Aghion.

It is, indeed, a worthy cause.

If you've seen Aghion's My Neighbor, My Killer (and if you haven't, you must!), you have a good notion of what the Rwandan nation has been through, and you know of their struggle to move forward. The IRIBA Center will be of enormous help.

In a wider view, the IRIBA Center project also positions documentaries and documentary filmmakers within the context of the real world -- where they make a difference.

It's time for everyone to become a documentaries angel and offer support, beginning with a click to contribute to IRIBA Center's crowdfunding campaign. By Sunday!

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