By Warren Etheredge
Digital technology has made it easier and more affordable for storytellers to realize their visions, however, it’s done nothing to lure audiences to watch films on the big screen. Whether in America or Rwanda, if your movie isn’t seen in theaters, it is much like a falling tree’s riddling sound. Who knows if it even happened if no one was there. Today, distribution is the most challenging aspect of the business.
In FINDING HILLYWOOD, an aspiring Rwandan filmmaker Ayuub Kasasa Mago, learns to make movies as a way to purge the guilt of having survived his people’s genocide in 1994, while many of his loved ones did not. His screen stories are cathartic, but sharing them with audiences does more to heal his wounds, and the nation’s. Thus, Ayuub guides a team of his peers to take their movies across the country, on a multi-stop, 12-day festival tour, screening on a giant, inflatable screen for thousands of Rwandans seeing movies, made in their native tongue, for the first time.
Making a documentary for the first time, Seattle’s Leah Warshawski traveled to Rwanda many times over many years, along with her co-producer and co-director, Chris Towey. They found their story, then their “lead” and let Ayuub’s journey shape their own. But getting Americans to see FINDING HILLYWOOD is proving more challenging than busing across Rwanda. Yes, HILLYWOOD has played at more than 40 film festivals around the world and garnered six awards including the Audience Award at the Napa Film Festival, the Critic’s Award at the Sebastopol Documentary Festival and, most recently, the prize for Best Documentary at the Rainier Independent Film Festival in Washington State. However, theatrical distribution is elusive, in part because of the film’s running time (58 minutes) and, more disturbingly, distributors’ erroneous belief that people don’t want to see African subjects.
Consequently, Ms. Warshawski is tapping other outlets, including museums and educational organizations. And, on Monday July 7th, 2014, she will test her doc’s draw, by staging a Gathr screening in Seattle at The Harvard Exit. (For details, please visit: http://gathr.us/screening/8110)
Gathr is just one of a handful of initiatives hoping to connect movie-lovers with movies. Will it be enough to revolutionize exhibition and allow filmmakers greater control over their screenings and profit? Time will tell if new technology will prevail where the old school has failed. Will FINDING HILLYWOOD find its audience? Leah Warshawski will be around to hear the tree fall, the crowd cheer.