From the perspective of the soldiers who participated in the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) liberation struggle, “The 600 Film” , which world premiered in Kigali on July 3, is a true reflection of the events that happened in Rwanda.
The 114-minute film, which gives firsthand accounts of resilience and sacrifice by the 600 soldiers who were crammed in the Parliamentary building, then known as Conseille Nationale de Developpement (CND), when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out, was screened yesterday at Century Cinema in the capital Kigali.
President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeanette Kagame were among those who attended the screening of the film which is based on true stories of a young, well-disciplined, resilient army, which made the ultimate sacrifice to rescue as many Rwandans as possible while at the same time battling the genocidal forces.
The entire film produced by American TV and film producer Richard Hall and co-produced by Rwandan filmmaker Annette Uwizeye, is based on real accounts told by real people, while just a few scenes of the massacres were reconstructed.
“It is a true reflection of what happened at the time. It captures the whole story and there is not a single part of it I thought was fictitious or acted. It is real and it is compelling,” said Brig. Gen (Rtd) Wilson Gumisiriza, a veteran Rwanda Patriotic Front ((RPA) senior officer.
The film features RPF officers at the time who were involved in the rescue mission, narrating how those in Mulindi had to trek many miles to Kigali to reconnect with the 600 who faced the threat of annihilation by genocidal forces after President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was downed by Hutu extremists.
It also features Tutsi survivors who narrated how systematic and planned killings started as soon as the plane crashed on April 6.
Government soldiers and machete wielding militias, Interahamwe, began to hunt Tutsis immediately, killing them in their numbers.
In the film, the Air Force Chief of Staff (AFCOS), Maj Gen Charles Karamba explained how a plan was hatched to rescue or give support the 600 men and women stuck in the Parliamentary building who faced a threat of annihilation from the government forces who at the time had superior equipment and numbers.
He also noted that at that point, the task was two-fold, to rescue the 600 while at the same time stopping killings, rescuing targeted groups and treating the wounded.
With one of the two big guns the RPA officers were allowed to bring to Kigali when the 600 men and women came with to join the transitional government, Maj David Rwabinumi and two others, strategically stationed on top of the parliamentary building fended off enemy forces who were now shelling and advancing towards the building.
For three days, Rwabinumi and his back up fired at the enemy until reinforcements arrived from Mulindi. At this point, killings were spreading fast and part of the 600 moved quickly to rescue thousands of Tutsis who were now crammed into Amahoro National Stadium, hoping to be protected by United Nations Peacekeepers under the UN mission to Rwanda (MINUAR).
Rev. Antoine Rutayisire, one of the survivors at the scene, narrated how UN peacekeepers failed to protect thousands of men, women and children at the stadium until RPA forces arrived and rescued them before marching them to the secured zone.
In the meantime, the arriving group and some members of the 600 fought hard to take control of Mount Rebero where the FAR forces were strategically stationed, making it hard for RPA fighters to make any advances.
Along the way, the fighters rescued thousands who were being targeted by militias and government forces along Kicukiro-Nyanza periphery before they went on to rescue hundreds more seeking refuge in St. Andre Nyamirambo.
Maj Gen (Rtd) Sam Kaka in the movie narrated how the RPA fighters were not only fighting to liberate the country but also it was a race against time to rescue their own families and relatives who were inside Rwanda, though it was unfortunate that most of them had been killed by the time RPA soldiers secured the city and areas surrounding it.
In one of emotional parts of the film, one of the RPA fighters who had left Kigali to join the struggle, narrated how he fought to rescue his mother only to find her among piles of bodies of people killed by Interehamwe militias in Nyanza, Kicukiro.
“The only gift I could give her was my uniform. I dressed her in my military fatigue before we buried her,” he says as he is overcome by emotions.
The movie which is set to show in local cinemas, is a biopic based on the real events of the 3rd battalion of 600 soldiers known as The 600 who were in Kigali as part of group to form the transitional government as per the Arusha Peace Accord.
When everything fell apart, the commander at the time, Maj Gen Paul Kagame ordered the forces to embark on a rescue mission and stop killings.
It took 100 days for the RPA fighters who were outnumbered and inferior in equipment to fully put a stop on the massacres but more than 1 million had already been killed in one of the worst genocides the world has ever seen.
The movie, which was produced by Great Blue Production owned by Hollywood producer Hall and Uwizeye’s A-Wize Media, was inspired by Hall’s random visit to the Campaign against Genocide and got overwhelmed by the story of the 600.
“Stories like these need to be told and need to be told over and over again. It started with a visit to the Campaign against Genocide Museum on a slow day with friends and we thought this could make a great film,” Hall said at the premiere.
He said it took 18 months to produce the film, putting together of stories of RPA fighters and testimonies of survivors. The movie will be shown at Century Cinema for the coming days and on different TVs.
“This is the true ‘untold story’, not the other one [of BBC]. It shows us that RPF fought two wars, one of liberating the country while at the same time it had to rescue thousands and stop the genocide when the UN and the international community failed to act,” said researcher and author Tom Ndahiro.
The Executive Secretary General of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide Dr. Jean Damascene Bizimana said that the movie is the true recollection of what happened.
“There has never been a single movie or documentary that depicts the role of RPF in rescuing thousands of people. I hope this film will stop the distortions and unnecessary debates on what RPF did to rescue Tutsis who were being killed in their thousands at the time,” Bizimana said, urging for more documentation of this history.