Filmmaker Interview

POV: What is this film about?

Sam KauffmanSam Kauffmann:

Massacre at Murambi explores the fact that the West turned its back on Rwandans during the genocide in 1994, even though our leaders all knew how dire the situation was for the Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Yet the many promises of "never again" that followed that genocide have not stopped this genocide in Darfur.

POV: What drew you to the subject?

I was invited to Rwanda last summer to teach a pilot video-production class at the National University of Rwanda. The university is not in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, but in Butare, about two hours south. One of the few "tourist attractions" in the area is the genocide memorial at Murambi. Few people go. I was the only person there the times I went. It's the most haunting memorial I've ever visited, and being there prompted me to make this film.

POV: How long did it take to make the film? Describe the process briefly.

Kauffmann: After visiting the genocide memorial at Murambi, I went back to my hotel room in Butare and wrote the narration, which is the backbone of the film. In the three weeks that were left of my stay, I shot the bulk of the footage, with an eye to getting material that would work with the narration. There were a few shots taken at airports in Europe as I traveled home. The editing process took longer. Because the film is only five minutes in length, every second must count, just as each word in a short poem must be exactly right.

POV: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

I found shooting the footage inside the genocide memorial to be the biggest challenge. There are thousands of bones, skulls and bodies that were exhumed from the mass graves surrounding the secondary school, which was the site of the massacre. The bones and skulls are disturbing enough, but what's beyond comprehension is seeing the 1,800 bodies that have been preserved by some sort of lime compound so that human hair, flesh and muscle still cling to the skeletal remains. The bodies are stacked together on slat beds, and once you enter a room, you are truly a part of them.

POV: There has been much in the press about the genocide in Darfur. Why is it so important to remember Murambi and other mass murders?

The curators of the memorial at Murambi are survivors of the genocide, and they encouraged me to film the remains inside the buildings and to bring the story inside my camera to others. Given how many prominent world leaders have, throughout history, denied the existence of genocides, and how many people to this day deny there ever was a Holocaust, I believe these curators have it right.

POV: What can individuals do to try to change the situation in Darfur?

We must make it a burning issue in the eyes of the people we elect to represent us to the world. Write to your congressional representatives to tell them that this is an issue you care about.