Film Review: Sweet Dreams

Sarah Cechvala is the Program Manager for the Listening Program and the Corporate Engagement Program at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. Her work includes improving the effectiveness of international actors involved in humanitarian aid, peace process, and sustainable development, particularly through listening to the voices of affected populations; and also focuses on supporting companies to make a positive impact on the environments in which they operate.
Sweet Dreams is a new documentary by Directors Lisa and Rob Fruchtman. The film, set in post-conflict Rwanda, is a narrative about economic development, social and cultural change, and women’s leadership. These are topics woven throughout each issue of Building Peace, but will be especially highlighted in the March 2014 issue, focused on gender and peacebuilding. Visit the Sweet Dreams website for a list of screening locations and be sure to subscribe to Building Peace to receive future issues.

1-clementine_closeupThe drums’ rhythmic pulses harmonize with the vivacious roar of female voices as we are introduced to the women of the Ingoma Nshya drumming troupe in post-genocide Rwanda. Counting on Kiki Katese, the founder of Ingoma Nshya, for narrative and context, and drawing on the personal stories of the female drummers, Sweet Dreams documents the drummers’ journey to open the first ice cream store in the nation. The film tells the story of the women’s twin desires to foster economic independence for themselves and to bring tangible pleasure to their community. In telling this story, Sweet Dreams exposes a country still marred by the 1994 genocide, and a society that continues to endure the emotional and developmental impact of that event.

Sweet Dreams commences with an introduction to the first female drumming troupe in Rwanda. Similar to how they broke barriers by becoming drummers, a traditionally male dominated activity, the women now desire to create personal and societal change by opening an ice cream shop in their community. Through their art, the drummers create a therapeutic release from the legacy of violence, and a channel for convening women from tribes on both sides of the conflict. Daughters of perpetrators jailed for their crimes dance and drum alongside daughters of those lost in the massacres. Kiki, whose ambitions extend beyond coexistence and healing through drumming, seeks to promote new avenues for income generation for the Ingoma Nshya drummers.

Inspired after visiting an ice-cream shop in Brooklyn, NY, the women of Ingoma Nshy start a cooperative and eventually open their own ice-cream store, thus actualizing Kiki’s aspirations of empowerment for the troupe. It is through a recounting of this journey that Sweet Dreams advances into an emblematic narrative of female friendship, leadership, empowerment, and above all, faith in themselves, each other, and their community.

8-SignboardThe drive to erect an ice cream store provides the women of Ingoma Nshya with a concrete vehicle for growth and prosperity that inspires both them and the viewers. At the same time, the film does raise implicit questions about the actual strength of development projects. Although unequivocally instrumental in their potential to convene groups of people, economic development initiatives are not in and of themselves pathways to peace and reconciliation. While development projects can engender peace, they also have the capacity to further instigate and fuel violence by ignoring the original triggers of violence. Therefore, while economic growth is essential to development and female agency, meaningful reconciliation and inclusion is fundamental to thwarting future violence and conflict.

Though Sweet Dreams is at its core a development story, (one man in the community comments: “You know if you bring development to the woman, you bring development to the whole family.”), the movie is laden with themes of reconciliation. While the drummers of Ingoma Nshya explicitly address the challenges of healing and reconciliation with self and community, the movie’s directors, Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, are cautious and reserved in making commentary on the profound wounds that violence and conflict can impart upon the collective memory of a society. There is little footage about the ways in which the country has or has not addressed its wounds and little is revealed about what the country’s leadership’s has done to acknowledge the root drivers of the conflict, and identify viable channels for reconciliation. The viewer is therefore left with a narrowly defined snapshot of reconciliation and story constructed on a sense of forced, but pervasive hope.

Rwanda’s reconciliation process has had some successes. The Gacaca Courts, although controversial, have allowed for a more expansive level of reconciliation and have provided for a community-driven justice process. However, the overall ability of the government to support tangible progress has come under question, in particular with the passing of legislation that bans the use of “genocide ideology” – statements that incited communal hatred – and forces the people of Rwanda to refer to themselves only as Rwandan and never Hutu or Tutsi. This policy denies Rwandans a transparent, open, and honest dialogue, and avoids the real issues, leaving the country in a highly volatile state.

Despite side-stepping the explicit challenges of the country’s reconciliation process, Sweet Dreams does provide a channel for the women drummers to reflect personal post-genocide stories that in turn offer a glimpse into reconciliation in Rwanda at large. These stories reveal a country still weary and broken, although no longer paralyzed by its past. The notion of “living but not alive” is a frequent saying in the film, but the women of Ingoma Nshya troupe show us that they are both living and alive. Effervescent in spirit, the women drummers, and new owners of the Inzozi Nziza ice cream shop, manifest the spirit of hope in its purest form. In fact, the banner for their shop reads “Ice cream, Coffee, and Dreams”. While Sweet Dreams at times neglects its opportunity to acknowledge the challenges of the Rwandan reconciliation process and the current state of security in the country, it does provide a positive example of economic growth, hope, and the future of the women.

Sweet Dreams is being shown during the month of November in select cities across the U.S. To see if the film is being shown in your city, click here.
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