Norwich teen film star Roger confronts killer on tv.
PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 July 2011
Norwich teen film star Roger returns to his Rwandan roots for a TV documentary. ROWAN MANTELL reports.
Norwich teen film star Roger Nsengiyumva was born into a world of horror, his father murdered when he was just nine days old, his mother battling to keep him alive through 100 days of genocide.
Tonight the Africa United actor is back on our screens, this time not in a family football film, but on an altogether darker journey, retracing his mother’s nightmarish route through the killing fields of Rwanda.
For 100 days Illuminee struggled to save her newborn baby and his toddler half-brother. For 100 days she was frantic with fear, beaten, starving, barely surviving, as machete-wielding murderers rampaged through her country, massacring a million people in their homes, in the streets, at work, or even seeking sanctuary in churches.
This spring 17-year-old Roger, who lives in the city centre, returned to Rwanda with film-maker Nick Andrews, to retrace his mother’s terrible journey through genocide and find out whether he could forgive the people who had killed his father, robbed him of a brother and left Illuminee still haunted by the horror.
It is an emotional journey as the Norwich teenager visits the spot where his father was dragged into the street and shot by former friends and neighbours, simply because he was from a different tribe.
Illuminee, a new bride and new mother, ultimately forgave the killers, but can Roger?
He has no memories of the terrible time he was born into, but it still colours every aspect of his life. His mother managed to keep him alive while fleeing through a country stalked by death squads and murderous gangs. Traumatised, grieving for her husband, friends and family, caring for a newborn baby and terrified toddler, she kept Roger and David alive as they cowered in blood-stained rooms or bullet-pocked ditches, fled cross-country or holed up in abandoned buildings.
But after a forced march across mountains to a refugee camp David succumbed to cholera and died.
When the frenzy of the three-month holocaust was over, a million people had been murdered and millions more would never recover from the horror. Illuminee tried to rebuild a life for herself and Roger with her few remaining family members. No-one survived from his father’s side, but one of Illuminee’s cousins was safe, with her two children, and, through Oxfam, was offered a place to study at the University of East Anglia.
Illuminee came too, to look after the children, and when her cousin returned home, she stayed in the city where she had finally begun to feel safe.
Roger grew up as a Norwich boy, speaking English, going to local schools, supporting Norwich City, playing football.
Illuminee’s diary was published as Miracle in Kigali and publicity surrounding her story brought Roger to the attention of the director of Africa United. The film was the fictional story of a group of children who travelled from Rwanda to South Africa for the World Cup.
This spring Roger returned to Rwanda for another journey, alongside documentary-maker Nick Andrews.
Nick was brought up in Rwanda, the child of missionaries.
He said: “I saw this funky young actor on the television, and recognised his name as being from Rwanda, and wondered whether this could be the film I had always wanted to make about Rwanda.
“Initially both Roger and Illuminee were a little bit cautious. Roger carries a lot of his mum’s pain, he is the only child in a single-parent family, and I felt he did this for his mum, and for the wider world to know the horrors of genocide.”
The hour-long film, Roger: Genocide Baby, will be shown on BBC3 at 9pm tonight.
“He was very open, and there were tears,” said Nick. “I think we pushed him pretty much as far as he was able to go at 17. I felt very responsible for him and we spoke at length, most days, about how he was feeling.”
During the film Roger comes face-to-face with a former killer, who begs for forgiveness. “He has to decide whether he can forgive him,” said Nick.
Unlike Roger, Nick remembers his childhood in Rwanda, and how the streets he used to play in were suddenly stalked by gangs of killers with guns and machetes, and littered with dead bodies left festering in the heat. But the film is not unremittingly grim. Roger meets some local hip hop musicians and perfoms in a reconciliation concert alongside them.
“There were tears, but there was also laughter,” said Nick.“I watched the film with both Illuminee and Roger and afterwards Illuminee said it was a beautiful film. I think, not because it’s beautifully shot, but because there is beauty in some of the people and the emotions, and in Roger’s response to what he encounters.”
Roger grew up in Norwich and was a pupil at the City of Norwich School on Eaton Road.
He is a keen footballer and had a trial for Norwich City.
It was his footballing skills and Rwandan heritage which catapulted him into the film industry – but he proved to be a talented actor too.
After starring in Africa United he went on to star in a BBC1 docu-drama, shown in June, about the triumph of homo-sapiens over other ape-men.
He returned to Rwanda this spring to film a documentary highlighting the courage of his mother as she fought to save him from the genocide – and discover whether he join his mother in forgiving the killers.
Roger, Genocide Baby, will be shown on BBC3 at 9pm on Wednesday July 13.