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Exploring identity through film

by Alex Hutchins March 19, 2019
Exploring identity through film

Jackie Batsinduka explores loss and family history in Geni

“Growing up as a child of two survivors of the [Rwandan] genocide, the big thing for my family—and I think it’s true of many people’s family—is that it’s not really talked about,” said Jackie Batsinduka, a Concordia communications studies graduate. “My mom lost the majority of her immediate family, except for two brothers, and my dad lost his entire family. So imagine that, then you have a kid two years later.”

Jackie Batsinduka is a rising filmmaker and recent Concordia communication studies graduate. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

Starting on April 7,1994 and lasting about 100 days, the Rwandan genocide resulted in the mass murder of nearly one million people, the majority of whom were Tutsis. Batsinduka was born in Ottawa just two years after the genocide. “I guess it was easier to just forget and live your life,” said Batsinduka, “focus on this new chapter.” Although her family rebuilt their lives and eventually settled in Gatineau, Batsinduka explained how the past would come up in small ways, no matter how much they tried to push it away.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.” Because her parents hardly spoke about the genocide, Batsinduka said she grew up feeling as though asking questions about her family’s history was too painful. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say it,” said Batsinkduka, “but I also wasn’t, like, out there seeking to know more.”

Throughout her childhood, Batsinduka was fascinated with how TV shows and movies could bring people’s imagination to life, despite not thinking of herself as imaginative. “As I got older and into high school, I realized ‘hey, I can make this stuff,’” she said, with a laugh. Batsinduka’s filmmaking career began in high school where she’d make amateur videos with her friends in media club. In CÉGEP and eventually at Concordia, she further explored her multimedia passion and continued developing her unique voice.

After graduating from communication studies at Concordia in summer 2018, Batsinduka delved into writing the script for her first project post-graduation, titled Geni. The short film tells the story of a girl estranged from her mother, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who is invited back to her childhood home at her mother’s request. Batsinduka is both writing, directing and co-starring in Geni, which explores how one family is impacted by the genocide, the intergenerational trauma carried by the children of survivors, and how each family member’s unique experiences feed into one another.

Christine Kayirangwa, Batsinduka’s mother, was born in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.”

“This project is an opportunity to heal, not just for the Rwandans involved in the making of this film, but for everyone who will watch it,” writes Batsinduka in her director’s notes. “By bringing Geni to life, I can thankfully now say that my identity as the daughter of Rwandan genocide survivors is something I have begun to claim.”

Geni is also the shortened, Americanized nickname for the main character, Mugeni. Mugeni means ‘bride’ in Kinyarwanda, one of the mother tongues of Rwanda. Batsinduka’s mother, Christine Kayirangwa, has no acting experience but is also co-starring in the short film as Geni’s estranged mother. “Having her support and her confidence in me, and trusting me that this is a story worth being told and that I can tell it, has been amazing,” said Batsinduka. “Just her willingness to embark on this exploration of how this story could change our lives, or our relationship.” Though Batsinduka’s father passed away a few years ago, before this film was conceptualized, she likes to think that he’s smiling down on her and Kayirangwa as they explore their shared history together.

Identity reconciliation is a central theme in Geni, as is profound loss and the cyclical nature of family dynamics, which Batsinduka feels everyone can relate to. “The film is for everyone, but it’s especially for my community,” said Batsinduka. “There are nuances that are very much for people of that community, and that was important to me […] to not hold back on the audience. This film will definitely leave you thinking.”

Geni is scheduled to film in early May, and is aiming to premiere at festivals in summer 2019. This year marks the 25-year commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, which took place from April 7 to mid-July 1994. Batsinduka is holding a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo from March 19 to April 16.

Feature photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka

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