Kigali, Images Against a Massacre

By Jean-Christophe Klotz

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In April 1994, Jean-Christophe Klotz was a journalist and film reporter, who thus filmed his subjects. He worked for independent agencies such as Sigma and Gamma. He was in Rwanda to film, then, but also because Bernard Kouchner needed a camera to bear witness to his attempt to mediate between the Rwandan army and Paul Kagamé’s Rwandan Patriotic Front in order to set up humanitarian corridors and stop the massacres. Thus, the goal was to mobilize the public by showing « anti-massacre » images, as the massacres spread around the country and notably in the capital of Kigali.
In these early stages of the genocide, he wasn’t the only one to film. Televisions were there. The world knew. These images are press footage and they were broadcast by the media. Klotz thus shot a report on Tutsi children who were crammed into a Catholic parish where they had taken refuge. It was broadcast on Antenne 2, just like Jean Carbonare’s (President of Survie) earlier testimony on the same channel on the 28th of January 1993, on the 8 o’clock news, at prime time. Carbonare had talked about what he had seen in Rwanda: the setting up of a mechanism of organized massacres. His voice was choked with emotion, to which neither newscaster Bruno Masure or the audience could remain indifferent.
We knew, everyone knew, before and during the genocide, and yet, these images did not stop the massacres. The genocide continued with no international intervention, in the silence of the machetes and cut off from the world as journalists were repatriated in the face of danger. When the cameras returned, it was to film an avalanche of propaganda pictures concerning Opération Turquoise. The news was swamped with shots of Rwandans applauding the French rescuers from the roadsides, but this show was a lure: the Rwandans who were applauding were the genocide perpetrators who fled the RPF’s advance and who Opération Turquoise protected…
So we knew but didn’t take action. Why risk one’s life to shoot images? Klotz was hit in the hip by a burst of a machine gun fire through the door of the parish where the children were hiding. He was driven to hospital, and all the while begged for them to be protected. His wound protected him by taking him away: two days later, the children of the parish were exterminated.
It is not something one can forget. Ten years later, Klotz went back to Kigali and found the few survivors, no more than five. He started thinking about the role of images. He also found Kouchner who, despite his rhetorical expertise, could not conceal his emotion when recalling Mitterrand’s unwillingness to understand and who, when he called him in moments of urgency, transferred the problem to the UN…
Politicians only take action under the pressure of public indignation. That, apparently, is the power of the media. But in the case of Rwanda, the images were there but neither the public nor the politicians reacted. Stephen Frear’s The Queen showed how the English public’s emotions and its mobilization forced Tony Blair to change the Queen’s mind about having a national funeral for Princess Diana, whom he called the « People’s Princess ». Today, politicians don’t pull the strings as much as before: they too are the spectators of the world’s show and are condemned to realize so.
So the question is to know why a public who mobilized itself to such an extent after the tsunami did not react at the time of the Rwandan Genocide, and is hardly worrying about Darfur today. Images against a massacre. Do they have the power to change things? What the film acknowledges is uncompromising: even though overwhelming, pictures can only change things if they are acknowledged by those who see them. Despite being obvious, the images of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, or even of the massacres that were perpetrated years before it started, did not trigger sufficient awareness.
Probably because there is nothing obvious in an image. It is always the product of someone’s vision and perceived as such. Each person who looks at it will interpret it, according to his own filter, his imaginary representations and his prejudices. Africa? Did she not condemn herself to misery? The Africa of tribal wars, a discourse often taken up by the media who, through lack of knowledge, but also by applying the same old clichés, opposed Hutus and Tutsis as if they were rival ethnic groups: Are they not savages whom we have failed to civilize because they asked for their independence too soon?
And that’s where the images fall flat. And there’s nothing one can do, even by trying hard. And anyway, what do you have to do to try hard? « The beast does not allow itself to be filmed face on ». Must we film the corpses? Once, they stopped where bodies were spread out in the grass and Klotz and Kouchner were taken to a school were bodies were piled up. « I couldn’t. It is by showing the ill humanity that voyeurism begins », Klotz repeats again in his commentary. How to testify to mobilize but to avoid this trap?
The method he adopts is exemplary and allows the film to widen the question to an open reflection on the political and media treatment of the tragedies of our days. For he relocates the past in the present. For he returns to see all of the players of that time and listened to them without judgment: survivors, journalists, Kouchner… Presented in 2006 at the Cannes Festival by the Semaine de la Critique, which only picks one documentary each year, the film gave way to a public debate which included various personalities and which was retranscribed on our website. Because Kigali, des images contre un massacre, is important: It reflects the gravity of its question and the courage of its complexity.
It is not at all didactic because it is eminently personal. After eight years during which he tried to find the means to make this film, Klotz confides that, as long as he had not achieved it, he felt he could not go on being a reporter. Now that it is done, he is working on a fiction. Is it not in fact the best way of suggesting the inexpressible? But at least now his images, shaped as a question mark, are a testimony, are edifying and important.

Translated by Céline Dewaele.///Article N° : 5945

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