Claudine lives in rural Rwanda, in the south of the country. Her two daughters – Rebeca and Rachel – sometimes ask her what their father looked like. It’s mostly to settle an ongoing dispute about who resembles him more. The neighbours say it’s Rebeca but Rachel refuses to believe that. Claudine wishes she had even a small photo of her beloved husband who died in the genocide when the girls were still too little to remember him. But she doesn’t. All photographs were lost. She is hoping to find an image one day to settle the daughters’ dispute.
Mama Lambert used to be a teacher. She’s in her sixties and has recently graduated from university. She lost countless family members in the genocide, including many of her own children. She lives in a suburb of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Her house is filled with photographs. Mama Lambert is lucky enough (if luck is the right word) to have an album full of images. She donated the copies of some of them to the Kigali Genocide Memorial so her daughters can be remembered together with the other children. Other images from Mama Lambert’s album have been enlarged and put up on the walls of her house. Others still have been turned into paintings by a local artist. Mama Lambert has found peace in her church: Solace Ministries. She now offers support and consolation to genocide widows and orphans.
Oliva too has an album full of photographs – a small and neat thing with a photo of herself in a heart-shaped frame on the cover. Oliva lives in a town about a 40-minute drive from Kigali. She isn’t very well and supports herself by doing bits of sewing for other people. Oliva’s album is small but complicated... It contains the only photo of her husband, who died in the genocide and whom Oliva loved very much. But it is also home to photos of her sons, two of whom died after the genocide, breaking Oliva’s already broken heart. In Oliva’s album, there are also many photos of her. Even though the money is very tight, she photographs herself whenever she can to ‘make the record of the places she’s been to’ and so people can remember her when she’s gone.
Cecile has resided in the southern city of Huye – in a beautiful, sprawling house – for more than 80 years. Not only has she survived the 1994 genocide (escaping the country to Burundi) but many of the other violent episodes in Rwanda’s history. She lost countless family members in the genocide. When she returned from Burundi, she found her family albums scattered in the road by the University. Many of the photographs had been damaged. The killers wanted to erase all traces of their victims. Rescued and reclaimed, the photographs now reside in Cecile’s albums. She’s very glad to have them and says that without a photo you ‘lose the image of your loved ones from your mind.’
Adeline was too young to remember her father when he died. In the film, she shares her experience of “meeting” him through a photograph; the only one she has. She carries the image on her phone wherever she goes, like a lucky charm. She starts every morning by saying hello to her dad and consults the photo before every important decision she takes.
Serge is a genocide survivor and the head guide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM) – the biggest one in Rwanda. The KGM is also a burial place for more than 250,000 thousand victims. Serge’s father is buried amongst them. Serge talks about how strange it is to have to distance himself from his emotions as he guides visitors around the KGM, explaining the history of the genocide and focusing on facts only. He rarely mentions that he has family in the mass graves. Serge has donated the photo of his father to the Genocide Archive. He prefers to keep it there rather than at home – for him it’s a sure sign that his dad is ‘a victim and is never coming back’.
Aline is the main archivist at the Genocide Archive Rwanda and the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Her professional yet gentle manner shows in the care she gives to the images and documents donated to the Archive. Aline speaks beautifully about the thoughts that go through her mind when she’s handling private photographs of strangers whom she knows to be dead, and about her mission to make sure people are remembered as something more than a number.
Claver too is a genocide survivor, as well as the manager at the Genocide Archive Rwanda. He feels a very strong need to document the life of his young family. This desire comes, at least partly, from the fact that he doesn’t have a single photo of his parents who died in the genocide. He did have a small I.D. portrait of his mother but it got lost somehow. In the film, he talks about his important work of preserving history for future generations but also about the complexity of working surrounded by images without having any of his own.
Paul is an indexing and cataloguing officer at Genocide Archive Rwanda. He often goes out into the field to record the testimonies of survivors. Back in the office, he makes sure that the huge database of images and videos is in order. Paul is also a genocide survivor who lost many members of his family in 1994, including his parents and brother. Paul has a photo on his phone. It shows his mum, his dad and his brother. The photograph was put together by Paul’s wife in Photoshop. Different images were seamlessly merged to bring the dead together in one image, since no actual family photograph existed.