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TORONTO 2018 Discovery

Joël Karekezi • Director

"The jungle, the film's real character, questions the absurdity of war"


- TORONTO 2018: We met up with Joël Karekezi, whose second feature film, The Mercy of the Jungle, had its world premiere in the Discovery section at Toronto Film Festival

Joël Karekezi • Director

We met up with Joël Karekezi, whose second feature film, The Mercy of the Jungle [+see also:
film review
interview: Joël Karekezi
film profile
, had its world premiere in the Discovery section at Toronto Film Festival.

Cineuropa: Could you quickly summarise your career history?
Joel Karekezi:
I was born and raised in Rwanda. I lived through the genocide, during which I lost my father. I then took refuge in Congo. I felt the need to externalise this trauma, to transform it, and I came across some online cinema classes taught by a Canadian school. I got a taste for cinema, and then developed my writing skills at the Maisha Film Lab in Uganda, founded by Mira Nair. I then wrote my first short film, Imbayazi, which I decided to make into a feature film. It came out in 2013, after which I immediately started writing The Mercy of the Jungle, my second feature film.

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The Mercy of the Jungle highlights the absurdity of war, which isn’t dissimilar to your first film...
Yes, I grew up in a region at war, and I use my films to ask whether humanism is still possible. How do we believe in humanity when we’ve lived through the Rwandan genocide, or the war in Congo?

What was the starting point for The Mercy of the Jungle?
While shooting my first film, I met one of my Congolese cousins, who had taken part in the conflict on the border between Congo and Rwanda. He told me his background, and that he got lost in the jungle looking for his unit. I found the theme of wandering through the heart of the jungle extremely powerful. And I also wanted to address the issue of conflict by sticking closely to the psychology of two soldiers who are complete opposites... One has a wealth of experience and a status as a war hero, while the other is the typical innocent young guy, who makes a mistake that forces them to trek through the jungle together... 

The jungle is almost like the third character in your film.
I wanted the jungle to be the story's main antagonist, it's a character just like the two soldiers. By filming it, we wanted to make it talk and allow it to evolve along with the characters. I was very inspired when preparing this film by Terrence Malick's poetry in The Thin Red Line, his great anti-militarist film, as well as the way Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu follows his characters in The Revenant. The use of nature, and its immensity, to question the absurdity of the actions of humankind, and the madness of war.

Was it a logistical challenge to shoot in the jungle?
Yes, and I admire my producers' work. There were 40 of us in the jungle, we often had to walk for several hours, carrying all our equipment, to access the interior, because there were no roads. Just having access to money was a problem! But there were some truly graceful moments. For example, we had to shoot a scene with a gorilla. The team was very small, about ten people, and most of us had never seen one. It's no small thing to cross paths with a gorilla, it really is the king of the jungle, you have to know how to submit. It was a surprisingly peaceful and spectacular moment...

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