Arts & Events
Sweet Dreams Rwanda: Drums and Ice Cream in the Cone of Africa
Opens December 6 at the Shattuck Theaters
Sweet Dreams is a truly delicious film—a triple-decker trifecta of a cinema treat that serves up an improbable mix of three of the most disparate elements imaginable: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an insurgent team of feminist drummers and Central Africa's first ice cream shop. The work of two accomplished Berkeley filmmakers, siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, Sweet Dreams already has racked up nine prestigious film awards. It has been screened and celebrated at film festivals in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.
Note: Local filmmakers Rob & Lisa Fruchtman will be joined by Kiki Katese, founder of Ingoma Nshya for the 7:10 Saturday, December 7 showing of Sweet Dreams at Berkeley's Landmark cinema. In addition to a Q&A, there will also be a special live drumming performance by members of Rwanda's Ingoma Nshya drummers: Ingabire Rose, Mujawayezu Therese, Uwintiji Clementine, Uwamariya Clementine.
Sweet Dreams is a truly delicious film—a trifecta of a cinema treat that serves up an improbable mix of three of the most disparate elements imaginable: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an insurgent team of feminist drummers and Central Africa's first ice cream shop.
The work of two accomplished Berkeley filmmakers, siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, Sweet Dreams already has racked up nine prestigious film awards. It has been screened and celebrated at film festivals in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. It was even shown at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the 18th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.
Sweet Dreams would have been a gripping film if it had focused only on the power of musical performance to bridge the haunting horrors of neighbor-on-neighbor violence. Hutu and Tutsi women—survivors of a horrific genocide that saw nearly one million deaths during a politically promoted, media-fueled mayhem of tribal violence—find redemption and healing by taking up the sticks and drums traditionally wielded only by men.
The sight of the 60 Tutsi and Hutu members of Ingoma Nshuya (the country's first and only all-female drum troupe) wielding oversized drumsticks and dancing, singing and laughing together, becomes an overwhelming anthem and tribute to the dream of global feminism.
But wait, there's more!
It's not enough that this is a documentary about women overcoming the physical and psychic scars of genocide, war and rape through the redemptive powers of music and dance. This is also the story of how a group of Rwandan women decided to become entrepreneurs by forming a coop and building the country's first ice cream shop.
A great story arc soars even higher when Kiki Katese, the drumming troupe's director, takes it into her head to fly to New York on a singular mission. In Brooklyn, Katesea strikes up a friendship (and a business deal) with Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, the young owners of Brooklyn's Blue Marble Ice Cream shop. As if running a certified organic business in the heart of post-recession Brooklyn wasn't enough of a challenge, both owners decide to form a nonprofit to help their foreign visitor. Soon, the Brooklyn shopkeepers find themselves commuting to Rwanda to help Katese bring ice cream to her hometown of Butare.
The film begins with horrible images of the genocide and these memories continue to resurface regularly throughout the film in the recollections of the women who survived and must now move on and in a world where neighbors—and even parents—remain locked in prison for unspeakable crimes against others.
"People are not like roads and buildings," Katese observes. "How do we rebuild a human being?" Strangely enough, one remedy shows up in the form of a sugar cone filled with vanilla ice cream.
"Reconciliation is not just about two peoples," Katese says. "People have to reconcile with themselves, with happiness, with life."
Naturally, the women decide to name their fledgling shop Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams). And the sign they hang outside their improbably upbeat ice cream parlor reads: "Ice Cream, Coffee, Dreams."
The film is populated by dozens of unforgettable women. There's Marta, a Hutu woman whose husband was killed because he was a Tutsi. Seraphine saw her entire family murdered when she was only eight. Regine's parents are serving prison terms for murder.
Meeting Rwanda's President
Rwanda's President Paul Kagane shows what a real leader looks like. Rail thin and soft-spoken, Kagane looks more like a field worker than a typical fat cat politician. At public gatherings, he doesn't just drop in to give a speech. He sits down and takes questions from the audience.
In Sweet Dreams, we watch as President Kagane listens to individuals who approach a microphone and unleash streams of personal complaints: "I made bricks for this building and I was never paid!" a woman complains. "My wife ran off with a student!" fumes an angry husband. And, from one young woman with a baby on her hip: "I thought I would have a cow by now but it hasn't come."
"So!" Kagane asks from the stage, "Do you want a cow?"
The woman smiles shyly and backs away from the microphone.
Kigane grins, signals to some aides on the sidelines, and you just know that young lady is going to get her cow.
But other ministerial duties are darker.
Every year, Rwandans spend the entire month of April remembering the holocaust. In one uniquely harrowing scene, Kagane is shown addressing a huge crowd in an outdoor stadium. He's solemnly addressing issues of pain and reconciliation and, throughout his speech, horrible shrieks and cries erupt from the crowd as people faint and collapse from memories that still haunt them. Some bury their heads in their hands, some sit on the ground shivering and sobbing in the arms of friends, others are taken from the stadium in stretchers and rushed away in hospital ambulances.
When a country is soaked in a malevolent brew of such complex and damaging memories, the appearance of something totally novel can seem to offer a path away from the emotional sinkhole of memory.
Ice cream, after all, was totally unknown under these hot African skies. And if something as unprecedented as a sweet, cooling cone of ice cream suddenly drops from the skies, who's to say what other miracles might be available in "a world beyond the past"?
From Berkeley to Butare
Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, the film's co-producers and co-directors, have racked up a host of impressive A-list film awards over their long careers. Both are Academy Award winners. So how did they go from working on films like Apocalypse Now, The Right Stuff, and The Godfather Part Three to documenting a tale of redemption in Central Africa?
"What we knew of Rwanda was the devastation of the genocide—800,000 minority Tutsis killed in 100 days, many by neighbors and friends. How, we asked ourselves, was it possible for Rwandans to move forward from that?"
And how did drums and barrels of ice cream factor into the mix? The Fruchtmans decided to book a flight to Rwanda to see for themselves.
They found Rwanda "a country of contrasts—a beautiful land that is also an impoverished one," a nation that has made "exciting strides of economic development" while still in the grip of "trauma and tremendous sadness."
The filmmakers made four trips to Rwanda over the course of a year, capturing performances by the drumming troupe and slowly getting to know (and film) some of the many compelling women who share their nightmares and dreams during the film's propulsive 85-minute run-time.
"We filmed the emergence of the women as budding entrepreneurs, their struggles to build their cooperative, their delight as they learn to make and taste ice cream for the first time," the Fruchtmans explain. "And when the cohesion of the group is threatened by the difficulties inherent in starting a business, we saw the tensions lurking within the society and the group begin to emerge."
There have been other films that have meticulously reconstructed the horror of Rwanda's genocide but Sweet Dreams offers a hopeful addendum. As the Fruchtmans put it: Sweet Dreams is "a new kind of story…. The story of a remarkable group of women who dare to dream of new possibilities for themselves and their country."
One last note: The film's soundtrack is a work of perfection—the kind of work you would expect from Berkeley's Saul Zaentz film studio. It's so pristine and pure—from speech and sound effects to musical anthems—that it could be called "ice cream for the ears."
For more information, see: http://www.sweetdreamsrwanda.com/filmmakers/