DEVIN MEENAN — It’s not a common experience when you see a truly remarkable work of art crafted by one of your peers. I had one of those experiences about two weeks ago, when Alexis Lopez ‘19, a cinema major from Chicago, screened his documentary short, Kwizera.
The culmination of two years of work on Lopez’s part, Kwizera tells the story of Nshiyiminana Jean Claude, a young man from Rwanda. Claude’s father and siblings were killed in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and in the midst of the turmoil the country faced post that horrific tragedy, his mother, deprived of adequate healthcare, passed away from AIDS. As a result, Claude was left both an orphan and HIV positive. The film then focuses on Claude’s journey growing up with these disadvantages, as well as his finding support through yoga. After all, “Kwizera” is the word for “Hope” in Kinyerwanda, the Rwandan language.
The technical filmmaking Lopez displays throughout the film is nothing short of astounding. Throughout every frame, Lopez consistently shows not only natural intuition for framing and lighting an image, but also for putting these images together. One shot, which depicts a yoga session and tracks in towards the front of the room, stuck with me for its elegant spatial composition. As a result of this, Kwizera transcends the often amateurish trappings of student filmmaking, instead having a sense of professional skill more typically seen in theatrically distributed films.
After the screening concluded, a Q&A was held where Lopez answered the numerous questions on the audience’s’ minds. Lopez often answered questions about the process it took to make Kwizera; from his first meeting with Claude during their mutual involvement in We Actx For Hope, a Rwandan clinic for children with HIV, to an amusing anecdote about how, while filming at Claude’s university, they were accosted by a groundskeeper who demanded to see proper identification.
However, one constant theme while discussing the movie was Lopez iterating his desire to tell Claude’s distinctly Rwandan story in an honest way. “The biggest challenge to telling the story is to tell the story,” he said when asked what challenges he faced during the production, “I wanted to make such I stuck to [Claude’s] words; I didn’t want to mutilate what he said while editing.” From my admittedly less-than-fully educated view, the film is a rather non-intrusive depiction of the subject; it is clearly content to step back and let Claude communicate his story.