Reports from “Rising from Ashes”
May 17th — several students from IU’s SPEA attended the screening of the New View film “Rising from Ashes,” and joined the subsequent discussion. Read what they thought.
The audience were mainly people from our class with a few others from the public. After watching the film, it was clear that the main discussion was how incredible of a story and how successful the team’s efforts in bringing a country together were. Many people’s feelings revolved around the incredible way that sports can have an affect on bringing people together and giving a sense of camaraderie. This reflection of how the sport of cycling is an excellent example of a form of conflict reconciliation. Our discussion also revolved around the American citizen, Jock, had created an inseparable bond with his Rwandan team and how their tragic stories from the genocide shed light on a bigger picture of Jock’s efforts. The team’s wild success also brought more positive attention to Rwanda, rather than hearing about the genocide and how the country was divided.
The overall goal of the event to learn about post-conflict reconciliation was met. I, for one, came out of the event knowing more about this topic. Post-conflict reconciliation provides a chance for redemption for those seriously affected, especially with tragic events. Jock Boyer gives the Rwandan Cycling Team the chance at redemption and show the world that Rwanda is more than a country with tragedies. Rwanda is a country of relentless effort and with the determination to band together as a unit to overcome some of the biggest struggles a country has ever seen. Jock also does some self-reflection during his journey and redeems himself. Many of the team members in the film had multiple family members murdered during the genocide (Adrien had 60 family members, including 6 brothers). This Cycling team was an opportunity for all members of the team to put what happened in the past, but never forget, and move forward to a brighter future. The symbolism of the bicycle was extremely important as well. In Rwanda, cycling was held to a very high regard. Not just used for transportation, but a symbol for a vessel to move forward and do it quickly. Jock Boyer tells us that his favorite part of cycling is the fact that it gives an opportunity to escape reality for as long as you are riding, but the more interesting part of the film was how just being together seemed to do the same for the Rwandans. The film did a great job of displaying the familial aspect of the team, especially off the road. The team was so tight knit that they would often find themselves packed in one bed sleeping together. Although cycling brought them together, their camaraderie kept them together and it is encouraging to know that they seem reconciled from the tragic event that happened generations before this film.
My only criticism for the film would be to show more of the affects the team had on the country as a whole. We saw the interaction between the cyclists and other community members after they came home from traveling, however seeing the long-lasting affect that the team had would have been very interesting. Part of our discussion after the film revolved around involvement of other countries while the genocide was taking place. As far as policy changes, I don’t believe the film will illicit many changes for countries to change policy. Perhaps it can spark a conversation for advocacy groups to help make changes such as Jock did when he moved to Rwanda.
The film didn’t take a macro look at the country as a whole but rather a very microscopic look at how individuals who were directly affected by the events of the Rwandan Genocide. In terms of the audience’s desires, I feel as though aside from your class those who showed up were there in hopes of extending their horizons. The Rwandan genocide is arguably the greatest tragedy to go unnoticed. I think for many in attendance, while the movie didn’t focus a lot on the genocide, this was probably the most they’ve learned about the genocide thus far.
As someone who studied the genocide in college it was extremely compelling. While this is only the reconciliation of a small group it was awesome to see how they were cohesive. One of the best parts of the story was when the main rider’s bike broke and another rider who would have been on opposing sides during the genocide offered him his bike. While this seems like just a teammate being a good teammate, I think it can represent a small amount of healing. While the rider who gave up his bike likely never picked up arms and fought for his side, those wounds by the group of Rwandans who were victimized will never heal. For years they could be seen as aggressors or enemies. This small act of unity can symbolize the healing that the nation, as a whole, faces.
The film raises some important questions of reconciliation after a such tragic event. However, I think the most important aspect to reconciliation is recognizing how the situation was created in the first place. In the terms of Rwanda, a lot of outside factors played their part in the tragedy in the form of the Belgian colonizers. They began to categorize native Rwandans through very trivial means, like nose length. Creating two groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, Tutsis were believed to be superior to the Hutus. The Belgians decided to put the Tutsis into the power positions even though they made up much less of the country’s population. After years of oppression and degradation, the Hutus lead a revolution and seized power. Once in power, the Hutu government lead a mission to wipe Rwanda clean of Tutsis. For one hundred days nearly every second, a person died. If continued at that pace, it would have made the Holocaust a blip on the radar in terms of number of casualties.
While the wounds of such a tragedy will never heal, the actions after can be very telling of the country’s direction. I believe it is imperative to never forget the oppression the Hutus faced as well as the genocide the Tutsis faced. However, to move forward a genuine forgiveness and understanding between the two needs to be there. I think looking at post war Germany and modern-day America are two contrasting examples of how to handle post traumatic events. In Germany, they teach and warn about another situation like Adolf Hitler. The German youth learns the details of Hitler’s rise to power and exactly how he was able to fool an entire country into supporting the mass killing of millions of people. Whereas in America, we still haven’t decided how to deal with 400 years of oppression and slavery that many African Americans faced. While this took place almost two hundred years ago, the wounds are still very fresh. I feel as though not fully dealing with the past situation fully has led to the racial tensions and unrest in the United States today.
The film was extremely interesting and a great look into h
w sport can mend extremely deep wounds even on the most microscopic of levels. I think it showed what we have discussed in class on several occasions on what can you do in your little corner to combat these tragedies and misfortunes. I think that learning to open your ears and listen will provide you with an understanding that you never imagined and can help prevent events such as this one. You may not be able to understand another person’s plight, but you can always try to empathize with it.
The story of Team Rwanda is one of hope and inspiration. We heard how colonialism contributed in a significant, yet sad and tragic way to the genocide. Fortunately, we saw beyond that a Rwanda that is trying to rebuild itself. The film shows both the past tragedy and the present/future hope. Jack “Jock” Boyer’s story is also quite compelling. I only wish we heard more about Tom Ritchey, the Californian cyclist who was the one who made Team Rwanda happen. His story is equally compelling, yet another story of hope rising. I was fully taken by the cast, the country, and the story.
“Rising from Ashes” succeeds at promoting its inspirational tale. After all, the story includes genocide survival, and a soulful rebirth in the form of unexpected companionship and sportsmanship, cycling, making the feature easy to fall for. Its slight work as a documentary scores with a heartfelt study of perseverance, watching those who struggle every single day to contain their lives, build confidence and develop an alien sense of joy, with that purity of spirit contributing to a sporting odyssey that’s more about human details than physical achievement.
Sport is indisputably the most popular leisure activity in the world, not only for children and youth, but for men and women as players, coaches, leaders, administrators and spectators. And even though the intrinsic values and inherent qualities in sport and play lie entirely in how the participation in the activity is experienced and perceived, play is a natural part of people’s physical, mental and social development and growth.
Sport can be a low entry point for persons who are skeptical about peace and social cohesion. “Just play for fun!” helps to integrate persons who would never ever participate in activities as in the case of the Tutsis and Hutus. Sport and games allow therefore to work with the critical voices or even with persons who are against intercultural dialogue and nonviolent conflict transformation.
As a film about the aftermath of genocide, the film succeeds in presenting the historical background of the Tutsi-Hutu bloodshed, blaming it rightly on the racist divisions introduced in the colonial age. However, Johnstone’s insistence upon fashioning his film into a story of a triumph makes “Rising from Ashes” a tad too simplistic in its view of Rwanda’s present situation. We don’t get a sense of the country’s contemporary political reality, which makes the film seem myopic and not informative enough.
There’s something of a Big Game finale to “Rising from Ashes,” watching Johnston single out Adrien as he makes a play for Olympic glory, exceeding his wildest cycling dreams. It’s a jubilant conclusion, but a little light on details. However, a few gaps in the narrative do little to tarnish the impact of this stirring tale, which offers big heart and quick feet to those in the mood for a story that reinforces the power of the human spirit.
There are many stories or lessons to be learned about Western opportunities, innovation or even entrepreneurship tapping Africa’s diverse populace and markets, helping the native population recover but some are more about Western vanity than actually obtaining results. I didn’t feel that anything had really changed, particularly given the short and superficial timespan of this project.
According to Swedish author and self-acclaimed African-at-heart, Henning Mankell, “We know everything about how Africans die, but we know little about how Africans live.” To succeed, you must take the time to understand how Africans live and, especially, to learn what their daily challenges are, be they economic, political, and institutional or existential.
Today, moving from 25-year-old bikes with broken gears to modern equipment, while earning a global reputation and inspiring youth, the riders have become a vehicle themselves for healing and national unity. The kind of scene we saw, of 30 or more people crowded around one television, cheering on Team Rwanda, is somewhat a slow transformation. But the film always returns to the human element: sadness and grief and constructive ways to rebuild ourselves and our communities. Likewise, the political solutions that ended apartheid did not translate into improved relations between South Africa’s black majority and its powerful white minority. In fact, when Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994 he inherited a country that was on the brink of civil war and was struggling to rebuild itself on the remnants of a political system built on power and exploitation. His political manipulation of spectator sport Rugby was representative of his political focus on changing the way government operates as well as engaging in gaining the symbolic support that would ensure national unity. Rugby, in fact, later reverted to being a divisive issue in years following the 1995 World Cup due to issues of lingering racist attitudes amongst fans and administrators.
In order for us to better assess the use of sport as a peace building tool we have to gain understanding in the nature of the antagonism and conflict in the various cultural and geographical areas we choose to work. It is also advantageous for us to reflect upon some common values and principles that seem to guide most sport and development project working to address conflict prior to program implementation.
Conflicts and wars are never one-sided and one can never point at one reason why conflict, in itself, escalates to clashes or acts of hostilities. There is therefore no one response or method for conflict transformation, peace building or to reconciliation. The more we understand about the complexity of a conflicts nature, its parties, history and cultural settings the better we can craft activities adapted and suitable to the various situations.
Just as Jock says in the film, “Everything else, whether it’s trophies or anything, really doesn’t have any value unless you can use it for something to better other people.”
On May 17, 2018, at Butler University the film Rising from Ashes was shown as a part of the A New View Film Series. The event was presented by the Desmond Tutu Center, Center for Interfaith Cooperation and the Center for Faith and Vocation. The film and the later discussion centered on the horrific genocide in Rwanda and how does a society like Rwanda heal after an estimated one million people are killed in only months. The movie is about the lives of a team of cyclists and how they became a powerful symbol of hope for Rwanda.
The documentary follows the formation of the Rwandan National Cycling Team and one cyclist’s, Adrien Niyonshuti, successful bid for the 2012 Olympics. The team was trained and assembled by the first American to ride in the Tour de France, Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer. Jock had been to prison and was searching for meaning in his own life while the Rwandans were trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.
The film did a great job of showing the importance of bicycles and what they symbolized for a person in Rwanda. Bicycles are vital means of transportation in the country. Many use their bikes to ride miles each day. It’s a hard life in Rwanda as the country still recovers from the genocide as well as population displacement and economic hardships. A bicycle can provide transportation to work or vital resources that people need to survive. A bicycle can be the difference between life and death. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than during the genocide. In 1994 habing access to a bicycle meant access to freedom, to life and escape from machete mobs.
The movie showed how the cyclists were able to form deep bonds. The relationships the team members made would not have been possible in the past and were still unlikely in the present. Jock went to Rwanda not knowing much about the genocide. The members of the team had lived it. Many lost family and still carried the scars with them. Adrien was only six years old when the genocide started. Members of the team struggled to talk about it and it was something that clearly impacted them every day. The common theme of the bicycle and the shared grueling experience helped the team develop close bonds. Jock deeply cared for the members of his team and developed a father-like role for these young men. In many ways Jock needed them just as much as they needed Jock.
Members of the team were Tutsi and Hutu and were able to put the terrors of the past behind them and work towards a common goal. The team realized they had to put aside their differences and work together. Not only did they work together but they lived together. Jock was worried about the team having the right group dynamic and considered personality to be as critical as physical ability. The team had a spotlight on them as they generated more popularity. They became role models and celebrities in their country and Africa. The team showed that Tutsi and Hutu could unite. The perceived differences between the groups did not exist.
Adrien was under immense pressure to be successful. The spotlight was on him to accomplish something for the country. Rwanda needed a good story and something to lift up the country and he understood this burden. I believe this drove him and eventually led to the 2012 Olympic bid. He became best friends with a Hutu named Gasore Hategeka. Gasore was a member of the team and helped push Adrien to be the best cyclist he could. During a race when Adrien’s chain snapped on his bike, Gasore gave Adrien his bike so Adrien could continue the race. Their relationship was also a focus and could help people talk about the Hutu and Tutsi relationship in a positive light.
The part of the film and the audience discussion I found interesting was if the Belgians had a responsibility for the root causes of the strife in Rwanda. They split the population up into three groups. Those groups were the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Individuals were assigned identification cards showing what identity they were based on physical attributes. It is frustrating and cautionary that so much death and destruction resulted from foreign governments making decisions for indigenous people. Rwanda is a warning against demonization and dehumanization of different groups of people and if that warning is ignored a million people can die as a result.
If I could make one change to the event I would have allotted sometime in the beginning for background about the movie and perhaps concepts to have in mind for discussion later. I would have liked a brief history of the events to give the audience more information that way they can better participate in the discussion. I think that while the discussion was good, the venue was not the greatest for a group discussion on such topics but the theater was necessary for the movie.
I think the organizers wanted to foster a thoughtful discussion on how a society can move past the most horrific events imaginable. How can a society live in peace and what is the obligation of foreign governments to intervene if they have capacity to stop the bloodshed. While the film alludes to and shows horrific violence it is still hard to imagine the unthinkable brutality of genocide or perils of living in a civil war torn country. A New View Film Series would like to open audience members to new points of view and different perspectives on critical issues. The issues in Rwanda have parallels all across the world. How will the crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians be solved or how can the United States reconcile with past and present racial inequalities? Will North Korea and South Korea ever be able to become united or what can South Africa do to resolve its history? The film and discussion series can create thoughtful dialogue of larger questions which can help formulate ideas and create policy.