Sylvestre’s Story

On July 1, 2014 by danielhalsall in Documentary

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Rwanda: 1994. After helping people escape over the border into Congo, Sylvestre does not feel like a hero. He struggles with shame, guilt and anger. Why didn’t he save his friends from the Genocide? How can the same type of people they worked so hard on saving, afterwards wrongfully accuse and imprison his father? Sylvestre Story is about his struggle and eventual journey to reconciliation.

We knew from the start we wanted to explore the theme of reconciliation and / or lack thereof in the documentary. During our research we collected a large amount of personal stories from victims and offenders of the Rwandan genocide and tried to figure out how to piece them together, and film them in the short time we had. Then one day, one of our local contacts Sylvestre who was helping us find stories added his own story. It hit so many points and turns: grief, hatred, shame and finally redemption. We switched everything around and decided to focus on his story instead.


We wanted to be as flexible as possible, we had a small crew, multi-purpose equipment. The boom could be transformed into a jib, the shoulder rig could be packed down so small it fit into the front pocket of a backpack. We shot with plastic-body DSLRs, light and inconspicuous (which shot beautiful images! We often had questions asking if we shot the doc on RED).

For some parts we had ‘recreations scenes’, in which I directed local actors. This was quite a daunting task sometimes, in the villages most of the people had never watched tv or the notion of what acting entailed. Sometimes it was a plus, they acted cool and natural, sometimes it ranged to ridiculous. An actor I instructed to walk and do a small hand motion started flapping his arms with comedically big handwaving motions and started to walk with huge steps. Whatever I told him it just got bigger and bigger. I pretended not to shoot and asked him to walked by, and he nailed it.

We had great local Rwandan producers with which it was a thrill to work with. I can say that they are some of the best producers I have worked with. I returned after the documentary to work with them again for a television show.


We travelled all over Rwanda, went to remote villages close to Lake Kivu. For some we were the first white people they had seen. They would shout ‘Mazungu!’ and wave at us and chase after the car. The puzzled looks on the faces of babies because of our white skin was hilarious.
Rwanda ended up to be a special place for us, a memory and place that lies very close to my heart.