Cinephiles with a global conscious won’t want to miss the opening night of the New York Polish Film Festival, where “Birds are Singing in Kigali” makes its New York premiere.
A collaboration between a husband-and-wife directorial team, the movie not only chronicles one family’s tragic story of survival during the Rwandan Genocide 25 years ago, but has a heartbreaking history itself. Several years in the making, both the film’s cinematographer and director Krzysztof Krauze passed away. Krauze’s co-director and wife, Joanna Kos-Krauze, decided the story was too important not to tell, and completed the project.
Brought to you by the Polish Cultural Institute New York, Polish Mission to the United Nations and the New York Polish Film Festival, “Birds are Singing in Kigali” follows the path of Polish ornithologist Anna (Jowita Budnik) in Rwanda in the 90s as the Hutus embarked on a 100-day killing spree, exterminating roughly 70% of the Tutsi population. Anna is able to rescue the refugee daughter of a slain colleague, Claudine (Eliane Umuhire) and both seek safe haven back in Poland. The adjustment, flashbacks and immutable feelings associated with their shared history makes ‘happily ever after’ impossible.
The haunting imagery, direct metaphors and indirect emotional parallel stories make this a film not to be missed. And the powerful performances by both lead actresses has left audiences breathless since the film’s festival debut in 2018.
New York audiences will have the benefit of meeting them both. According to Eliane Umuhire (Claudine), who is from Rwanda and survived the genocide, at times the script was too close to home. “I have a close relationship to the character that I play,” she says. “It is a dangerous one — I had to remove myself from the story because it talks about the genocide, and the consequences and aftermath.”
And this is but one story from that bloody period of history. “I have some wounds from the genocide, and so many people around me were left traumatized,” she goes on to say. “Every time we were shooting [the film] I had to remind myself ‘this is not my story. It’s the story of a million people’.”
The film series comes at an important time for Poland, the United Nations and efforts to ensure atrocities like those 100 days in 1994 never happen again.
The United Nations Security Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security, and is made up of 15 members. Membership is permanent for five countries (including the U.S.) and awarded in two-year terms to a further ten countries (including Poland, through 2019). Poland is also going to take on the presidency of the council this month.
IF YOU GO:
“Birds are Singing in Kigali”
In Polish, English and Kinyarwanda
May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
110 W 57th St, New York
Tickets are $40 and include the premiere screening, and Q&A with Eliane Umuhire and Jowita Budnik