Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video A conversation with filmmaker Sam Kauffmann, part of Filmmaking Forum: Scene Analysis.
- Sam thank you so much for sharing Massacre at Murambi with us. Can you just give us a little bit of background of how you can to make that film? Why did you make this film? - I got a Fulbright in Uganda and really loved the experience so much, I was there for nine months, that I applied for a second Fulbright. But you can't apply within a certain period for a full Fulbright, so I did this thing called the Fulbright Senior Specials Program. So it's six weeks going to some country and doing an intensive something or other.
So I got a position in Rwanda at the National University of Rwanda and so it was a six week course that I was teaching to the students there. I was living at a hotel in Bukhari. Bukhari's the city. And then later on as I was getting about halfway through the semester, the six-week teaching, I asked students, Now what is it before I leave I should really see? They said, really you should go to the genocide memorial that's about 50, 40 miles from here. And that clicked because some of the people at the hotel had said that they'd been to see it and they said it's amazing they let you take pictures.
It's horrifying. But it's fascinating. So one Saturday I got a taxi and I drove to this genocide memorial about the massacre at Murambi that happened in 1994. And I was the only person there. It was these school buildings and as I started to walk around, the guide was taking me and telling me the story what happened, and I see the skeletons. A lot of them have been preserved in this white lime.
It was just, I mean the smell, the heat, it was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. Yet, one of the survivors was my guide. I said, Listen, this is really powerful. You know, what happened here? He told me, and he told me about how they were tricked. They were told to go up to the school buildings for safety. That that's where they would be safe. But it was a trick to get them in there so they could be gathered together and be slaughtered. So I said, You know I have a film camera here.
He said, Please please we want people to know about this. So I started taking images that are part of the film and I spent two or three hours getting all this different footage. The hills, the surroundings, the buildings, and then the skeletons and the bodies. The way the bones were stacked. So then that day, in the afternoon, I drove back to my hotel. I was just really really upset. And about the same time that I was there Bill Clinton was visiting Rwanda.
And he said, and I read it in the papers, how he wished he had known then what he knew now about what happened. I knew that was a big lie because we all knew. It was in the news what was going on there. So I sat down and I wrote the narration. The narration is really the backbone of the whole film. You know, my anger, my disgust with myself, with all of us; it all poured out into those words. And so really those words didn't change that much from that day to when the film was finished.
It just got shortened a bit. So then, I have this narration and, you know, I'm too busy to do much else but, you know, I went out and filmed some shots of the countryside and people at markets and things like that thinking maybe I would use it. But the idea of how I was going to make this film really didn't come to me until I got back to the States and then I realized I needed more footage to make this work. That that narration I'd written needed more. So I filmed a lot of the other pieces, the people walking around, shopping, you know, things like that.
And I think I knew I had something important when I looked at the narration and I saw that it began with, "We begin with a lie…" And I think that's a very powerful line. I mean, you know, to start a film with. But it's so much what that story is, and then when you say at the end, "So we end this story as we began it…" "…with a lie." And that second lie is Darfur. So, you know, the editing took a long time because I knew that my narration was very short. So every image had to be very powerful.
And I started thinking, you know, this really isn't a documentary. It's more like a poem. You know, it's a screed almost. And one of the films that I've been exposed to when I was in film school was a film called Night and Fog. It's a documentary about the Holocaust by a filmmaker named Alain Resnaie. And part of the thing that sticks with you is the narration. It's just this really beautiful sort of haunting narration and it's in French. So I had some friends do the narration in English which just wasn't working. So I thought, well look, you know, part of the people who were involved in this genocide were the French government.
They were the ones that were supplying the machetes, they were the ones that really, you know, are like unindicted co-conspirators in that genocide. And then I was used to speaking French because, you know, that was, in Bukhari, in Rwanda I was in the part of the country where there's a lot of French-speaking. So I found this woman who was working at Boston University. She's a secretary in the Romance language department and she's from Paris, and she really liked the idea and liked the narration. So we went into a booth and she recorded this narration.
We tried it in two different ways. Sort of a dramatic way and a journalistic way. So every line we did different ways. And sometimes the journalistic way worked best and sometimes the more dramatic way works best. So there were a lot of different takes of each line but instead of being a hindrance, it really made the film. I mean I think people don't mind reading the subtitles because they can feel her voice and the power of it. - [Voiceover] (speaking in French) - The other thing that I did was working with the subtitles.
I really worked hard to make those subtitles flow really well with the images. You know, you see that narration with an image that works with that narration. And it took so long to find the right image for a line but there were these magical moments like for instance, there's a point where the narration says "if they were white" "we would have intervened in Rwanda". "Well, now they're white." And there's this shot of these bleached bones and I just knew that worked. There's a line about how, you know, our leaders rung their hands and you see these hands, you know, sort of sticking up from the bodies.
So the narration came really fast but the editing took a really really long time. - What about the music? - That was interesting. So a film like this needed music. You know? And so there was a film called Requiem for a Dream and that has a score that's just haunting. I mean it's really brilliant. And I remember watching the film and liking the music very much. So I bought the soundtrack to that film and I started playing around with the music. And thought of it as being the temp music that I would use to then show a composer.
But I fell in love with this music and I spent so much time basically taking this part and blending it in with this part. And, you know, mixing this, and so it seems like a score not three or four pieces from that film. So I spent so much time and energy, and I loved it so much, thought it worked so well. So I actually did the foolhardy thing of seeing if I can get festival rights to that music. And in fact I did. But it was a couple months process.
The festival rights cost me about $800. But I had to get permission from, you know, the publisher, from Clint Mansel, the composer. He actually, they asked him if it was okay. So then, great I have these festival rights. But then I didn't realize people were going to respond to it so well. So I started sending it out to film festivals and every single film festival I sent it to accepted it. I was like, oh my goodness, you know, so I mean it was just, the film took off.
And one of the festivals I submitted to is called Media That Matters and it won the Global Justice Award. And one of the judges is one of the producers for the PBS documentary series POV. Well, now I have festival rights but I don't have broadcast rights. So I go, oh my goodness. Now I go back to them and say, what would it cost? And they say, well now it's about 20,000. Okay, well that's not happening.
So then I did what I should've done in the first place, as I went to Berkeley, you know, The College of Music in Boston that has a great film scoring program. A friend of mine who teaches there told me about one of his grad students named April Thomas. You know, she really liked what I had done. But she did something similar but very different. (grand music) - [Voiceover] (speaking in French) - It was so hard for me to get the other music out of my head so I actually had screenings where I showed both versions.
Her version, and everyone's like, oh her versions better. I was like, yes, I'm so happy. So that's the version that's out into the world. The one with her score. So, such an important part of it and again, so much work went into laying that down. So it's a five minute film, but it probably took as long as a two hour documentary. - And then, you know, you say that it got a lot of tremendous reception wherever you showed it.
But what change occurred or do you think might have occurred as far as what came out of making the film? - Obviously part of my message was that things aren't changing. You know? That things didn't change from 1994 to 2007, 8, 9, 10. So I do feel that film can change, I think it's one of the most powerful tools people have for change.
But it doesn't always change directly. It's not like I can claim that this film helped resolve the issue in Darfur. I think, you know, all you can do is change one person at a time. But these changes, they're not instantaneous. I feel that, you know, there's a lot of things worth fighting for and if we don't be the change we want to be then we're not taking responsibility. - Is there anything else you'd like to say about the film or anything that we missed in our interview Sam? - There's so many parts of our life that are distracting us.
What was unique about my situation there is I was alone, I had no family, I was living in this hotel. So I could really really feel things. So, you know, when I saw this and I went to this it wasn't like it was dissipated by talking to people or going out to dinner with someone. I went right back to my hotel room where I was living by myself. So, you know, I think that helped the process. That I was really able to not let my feelings slip from what I saw that day, what I filmed, and when I sat down.
So I think sometimes being sort of alone and really digging into yourself and how you feel was an important thing. I think our filmmaking might be better if we tap into our humanness a little bit more. I think that's what this film was able to do.