Change We Can’t Wait For: IMUHIRA Writer/Director
Journals About Her First Feature Film

By Myriam Birara


At the end of 2021, I decided to shoot my first feature film in the north of Rwanda: a green, hilly region with the climate I wanted for the film. With the cast and crew, I spent all my shooting days there–days away from Kigali.

Self-producing your feature-length directorial debut is a lot already. But it’s much harder to do all of that as a female director. Not because film’s not a woman’s work, but because most of the time you deal with people who don’t like or aren’t used to taking orders from women.

I mostly saw these issues in pre-production and production. In pre-production, I chose to not share my script with anyone. Sometimes when you share your script with someone, they’ll suddenly say they supervised your scriptwriting. This is especially true when you’re a woman. Most men don’t do this to each other, thinking they are better than women in all things. They consider reading your script to be supervising you, which is wrong. Filmmakers do that for each other just to hear what their colleagues think about their work. So I chose to do all that myself.

It is a problem working with some men sometimes, especially with cinematographers, even in my other projects. He wanted us to shoot something a different way. Usually, I don’t make a shot list. I improvise. Sometimes I like to shoot both—the cinematographer’s shots and mine—then decide in post, which he wouldn’t be pleased about. He would spend many hours, or the rest of the day, pissed or refusing to work, and with the tight budget and shooting schedule, every delay made me suffer. A sad thing is that some men on the crew would take his side.

Working with people who question my creativity, people who don’t let me work as a director, who instead give unsolicited advice or tell me how good other male filmmakers are just to discount me...

In our community, generally, women’s rights have reached a better place legally—that’s why we have a large number of women in parliament. But we are still struggling because our equality exists more on paper than in real life.

We are facing something that’s been in people’s minds for hundreds of years. It’s still a new thing that a woman’s voice can be heard and her intelligence can be recognized. Young men don’t have role models for respecting women’s rights. Our mothers and grandmas, even some young women, think we sometimes exaggerate when we ask for equality.

We work with these people who look down on us as female filmmakers. Most of these people are men but sometimes they are women too, who are not aware that they are sexist. It’s so hard to be patient, to wait for people to understand that we are capable enough.

When you push such people to give you their best, they are quick to become pissed and consider you harsh or needy... Meanwhile, they behave more patiently with male filmmakers, tending to interpret men’s assertive behavior on set as clarity and directness.

These are all things that I faced when shooting my short films as a writer/director. And afterwards, other men credited the successes or potential of these films’ to a male DP or editor of mine.

But sometimes people, especially the women in my cast, would comfort me. That was encouraging. I tried to protect them from most of the issues I was facing so that it wouldn’t burden their acting. Still, I sensed they understood. No matter what happens, you have to keep a good vibe with the cast and crew.

After a long day of trying to hold everything together, I would be mad and wonder if I could complete the film or even manage the next day. It was such a tight schedule and low budget... No matter how self-motivated and confident you are in this condition, it consumes you and causes you to doubt yourself.

I would tell myself, ‘Nothing will stop this story from being told.’

And that energy would wake me at four in the morning to prepare my day five times more than a man would.

That kept me pushing past those who questioned my creativity and leadership. No matter how hard it was, I had to bring the picture in my mind to life—something that we would all be proud of in the end, that would bring that change we can’t wait for and show these people that we have what it takes to be successful filmmakers.

People simplify these issues and interpret them as mere misunderstandings. This thinking will not bring change any time soon.