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Revealing Rwanda's Soul Through the Mundane: a Conversation With Filmmaker Ganza Moïse

Updated: May 2

By weaving dreamlike narratives that blur the boundaries between reality and imagination, Ganza Moïse perceives storytelling as a powerful tool for exploring the intricacies of the human experience and uncovering multiple perspectives and layers of meaning in his works. As a filmmaker, Ganza draws viewers into the lives of Rwandan characters, inviting them to see the world through their eyes and empathise with their struggles, even as we grapple with the moral complexities of their choices. His work stands as a powerful testament to the art of nuanced storytelling, which delicately weaves together threads of characters and themes into a subtle tapestry of meaning.

Portrait of Ganza Moïse, captured at Indabo Café in Kimihurura -- Photo credit: Cynthia Butare

"It feels a bit strange to talk about your own achievements," Ganza said, chuckling, as I asked about his experiences with festivals. I could sense a slight unease in him when we broached the topic of his successes. "It's a very Rwandan trait to shy away from such things. Maybe it's modesty, but I'm not exactly sure why we do it."

Having directed over eight short films, his works have graced the screens of film festivals across the globe. From the Silicon Valley African Film Festival and Cascade Festival of African Films to AfrYKamera Film Festival and Signos de Noite, Ganza's talent has shone brightly. His films have also been featured at events like Ishango Encounters, Africa in Motion, and Hamwe Festival, as well as the Moscow International Experimental Film Festival, ZIFF, and art exhibitions such as the "International Digital Kunst Festival" and Maison Beaulier's "The Factory of Dreams." Among his many accomplishments, Ganza's film "Sensory Overload" earned a special mention from the jury at the 67th Oberhausen, cementing his place in the film community.

Portrait of Ganza Moïse, captured at Indabo Café in Kimihurura -- Photo credit: Cynthia Butare

Ganza's interest for filmmaking was sparked at an early age when his neighbour introduced him to Kung Fu movies. "It was like stepping into another world," he said, a nostalgic glint in his eye, recalling his neighbour's living room. The curtains were drawn and the room was dimly lit, but the small TV screen flickered with life, playing Kung Fu movies on VHS cassettes. And as he grew older, he began to jot down ideas that came to him in quiet moments. It wasn't until he landed a minor role in a film during a gap year after high school that he realised his true calling.

"Working on that film was a defining moment for me," Ganza remembered. “The long hours, the hard work, and the constant tweaking of the script only fueled my passion for storytelling. I knew in my heart that this was my calling, and I was determined to do whatever it took to make my dream a reality."

Ganza's passion for storytelling is deeply intertwined with Rwanda, providing him with an abundant source of inspiration for his cinematic works. He finds inspiration in the seemingly mundane aspects of daily life in the country that often go unnoticed but hold immense significance. Ganza incorporates these elements into his films with deft skill, creating a unique tapestry of art that reflects not only his identity but also the identity of his country.

“There is a need for a creative voice to explore and address the modern questions we have about ourselves and our identity”, Ganza said, “Preserving who we are is paramount, and that's why it's so important.”

Ganza and I first met in 2015 while attending a filmmaking workshop recommended by my childhood friend Kantarama Gahigiri. At the time, I had no idea that the filmmakers attending that workshop would play such a significant role in shaping Rwanda's filmmaking scene today. Amongst them were Yuhi Amuli and Mutiganda wa Nkunda, both still active in the industry, as well as the workshop coordinators, Samuel Ishimwe and Philibert Aimé Mbabazi Sharangabo, who have made significant impacts on the Rwandan film scene.

A candid moment captured during the Mashariki Film Festival Workshop at Kwetu Institute in Gacuriro in March 2015, featuring Ganza, myself, and another participant - Photo credit: Kantarama Gahigiri on Facebook

The workshop, drawing from Kantarama Gahigiri's experience co-directing the film Tapis Rouge, focused on teaching the fundamentals of filmmaking and exploring creative techniques to make a compelling fiction film with limited resources and non-professional actors. It was a fitting agenda given the creative constraints faced by the filmmakers.

Towards the end of the workshop, we were tasked with creating scripts for short films. Two scripts made the cut, including Ganza's 'Umuturanyi' (the neighbour). The students were then divided into two teams, and I was assigned to work on Ganza's team as the DOP and editor. During post-production, we spent a lot of time together to bring the movie to life.

Captured in March 2015, a candid moment of Ganza directing his short movie "Umuturanyi" while I worked as a DOP under the supervision of workshop supervisor Kantarama Gahigiri -- Photo credit: Simone Soleil

Ganza continued, "Attending the workshop was a defining moment for me, a confirmation that I was on the right path. Faith has always been a significant aspect of my life, and when signs reveal your purpose, it's essential to act on your faith. The workshop provided me with validation that my writing had potential, and I felt a sense of pride seeing my script come to life through the collaborative efforts. It was during that workshop that I found the courage to say, 'This is what I want to do with my life.' Of course, there were skeptics and family pressure, but the validation I received was enough to fuel my faith and determination to pursue my dreams."

After the Mashariki Film Festival workshop, I lost touch with Ganza. We didn't see each other again until the 2nd edition of the Kigali Audio-visual Forum in 2019, where I was attending as part of my new job after returning to full-time employment. As I wandered around the event, I stumbled upon the film pitch competition, and to my surprise, the filmmaker who won was none other than Ganza. I couldn't help but notice how much he had changed since the workshop. The introverted boy I had met had blossomed into a self-assured and tall young man.

As his filmmaking approach flourished, he increasingly recognised that the secret to elevating his movies was deeply rooted in the philosophy of observing the way people live, which he later artfully applied in his film, "Muzunga".

"As you dig deeper," Ganza revealed, "you realise that even the most mundane things can be a source of inspiration."

Hence, venturing through the bustling streets of Kigali on taxi-motos, Ganza finds inspiration in the most unexpected places - conversations with the moto guys. Their stories, often untold, piqued Ganza's interest, especially those about educated moto drivers who were unable to pursue their careers due to familial obligations. Even before the opportunity to make this film arose as part of the Hamwe Festival and the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) partnership that commissioned filmmakers to make movies on the implications of COVID-19, Ganza had already envisioned creating a film about David and his existential life questions. Incorporating the pandemic into the storyline added a new dimension, portraying David's journey from the freedom of the open road to confinement at home during lockdown, triggering a spiral of uncertainty and mental distress.

As a matter of fact, the seemingly commonplace tale of the moto driver garnered attention as it premiered at the 2022 Oberhausen International Film Festival, illuminating unheard narratives of Rwanda.

Portrait of Ganza Moïse, captured at Indabo Café in Kimihurura -- Photo credit: Cynthia Butare

Despite his humble demeanour, Ganza's achievements speak volumes about his unwavering commitment to his craft. His exceptional ability to find inspiration in unexpected places has given rise to films that deeply explore the complexities of the human experience. Ganza's enthusiasm for writing, poetry, and existential contemplation makes the short film format an ideal medium for his artistic expression. This concise yet captivating style of storytelling offers Ganza a vast creative playground, freeing him from the confines of traditional narrative structures. Consequently, he boldly explores ideas and emotions through an abstract and experimental lens, challenging established storytelling paradigms. With his unwavering determination to push the boundaries of conventional storytelling, Ganza is poised to make an even more significant impact on the film industry.

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