In 1994, an estimated one million Tutsis were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide.
The devastation took place over a mere 100 days in the culmination of a four-year civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis. This is what we think of when we hear “Rwanda”.
How can a country lift itself from such wreckage and project a different image to the world? Rising from the Ashes is this story.
In 2005, American bike builder Tom Ritchey cycled through Rwanda and met a group of cyclists who called themselves Team Rwanda. Their bikes were antiquated – at least 20 years old – single-geared and rusted. Ritchey called on his long-time friend, former US cycling champion Jock Boyer, to coach the team in the hopes of one day seeing Rwanda represented in the Olympics. This documentary follows their journey.
Executive-produced and narrated by Forest Whitaker, Rising from the Ashes was filmed over six years and three countries. In the space of 80 minutes, we learn about the cyclists and their backgrounds, and also hear the story of Boyer, who entered Rwanda a damaged hero and was therefore also destined to rise from his own ashes.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to know these people and we aren’t given the opportunity to feel for them. Though there is a touching moment in the film when Jock talks about the last time he saw his father and we sense a shared feeling of loss among the coach and his team, as well as a need for one another that goes beyond the sport, it is not enough.
I don’t want be a victim of exploitative storytelling at the expense of human suffering, but there is plenty of room for more emotion here. When you enter the theatre for a film with such a premise, you might expect to hold back tears throughout or applause at the end; for me, there was nothing to hold back.
Still, the story is an important one, an inspiring one. And when Jock says that all of the training, all of the trophies mean “nothing unless you can use it to better other people”, you know that this documentary might just have done what Team Rwanda set out to do: show people that they are not only on the world stage because of their tragic history, but because of their strength, because of their spirit, and because of their love for cycling and each other.
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