Deborah Scranton’s documentary Earth Made of Glass doesn’t exactly unearth any new idea or notion about the Rwanda genocide, but it still serves as a well-researched, educational guide, disclosing facts and outlining events integral to the genesis of hate against the Tutsis, the country’s minority tribe. There is a special slant to the film, though, and it comes via two individuals who offer their very personal perspectives of what occurred to them during and leading up the tragedy that took place on Rwandan soil in 1994. President Kagame, the commander who led the uprising to overthrow a Hutu-dominated government, lays out the clear facts about the roles of Belgium and France in the divergence between the tribes over the past 60 years in Rwandan history. The other story chronicled belongs to Jean-Pierre, a man desperately still searching for the truth surrounding the brutal slaying of his father at a small-town roadblock. Jean-Pierre’s narrative is both moving and uncomfortable to take in, as he urgently probes local townspeople fearful of giving up the truth.
France’s bungled efforts to bring peace to a conflicted, foreign region is put to task by Scranton, who views the country’s attempts at peacekeeping as being instrumental in adding fuel to the fire between the Hutus and Tutsis in the early ’90s; utilizing international news footage, audio interviews, and archival photos, the director draws a lucid line between France’s initial proposals and the reality of their well-documented work on the ground in Rwanda. Also, Belgium’s colonization of Rwanda in the 1930s is fully dissected—specifically their using of physical characteristics to classify the two tribes, assigning explicit monikers and IDs to the people, not unlike Nazi Germany.
While not a groundbreaking doc in terms of form, the emotional film insightfully highlights the horrendous tragedy and how that came to be; it’s a study on how foreigners can disturb a long-thriving system of peacefully coexisting people—and ultimately how they can destroy it. During the film’s final, heartbreaking moments, when Jean-Pierre finally meets a man that was at the scene of his father’s death and has his father’s bones dug up, we are given a small taste of what still haunts him today: the simple, maddening question of why.
Earth Made of Glass will play on April 26, 27, 30, and May 1 as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. For more information click here.