Director’s Cut: Kamanzi & Partners in Health

I can’t recall another time in my life where a man has made me cry. But Kamanzi did.

Emmanuel Kamanzi, known simply as “Kamanzi,” is a Rwandan Program Officer  for Partners in Health (PIH), the international nonprofit organization dedicated to delivering healthcare in some of the most resource-constrained environments around the world. Though I first heard about the organization when I was in high school, my friends will tell you just how much it has become intertwined with my Harvard experience–from taking Paul Farmer’s class (Farmer co-founded PIH in 1987 and has since become a prominent figure in the field of public health) to now preparing for the work I will be doing for the organization while abroad in Mexico. And so, after learning a bit about Kamanzi’s story, it wasn’t surprising to anyone that I jumped at the chance to interview him for my film class and learn more about PIH’s work in a country context that I had not explored previously: Rwanda.

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Inside the Harvard film studio with Kamanzi

This semester I have been taking a class called Using Film for Social Change, an exploration not only of the power of film to drive fear into the hearts of the otherwise complacent and inspire action, but also an exploration of the truly visceral encounter of a one-on-one interview that has that looming, ominous third party in the room: the camera.

I guess I’ve never thought of interviews like that. I’ve loved interviewing, certainly, because I’ve always felt incredibly honored to have this opportunity to share in someone’s story–often a complete stranger’s–in a way that wouldn’t be possible in any other setting typical  of everyday life. As a child, I used to say that I wanted to be an author so that I could create imaginary and wonderful worlds a la J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. But when I discovered journalism, and the art of interviewing, I found that I had found a better way to do just that–not to create new worlds that are purely imaginary, but rather to discover the ones that already exist through someone else’s story. This the nature of reading a novel that speaks back to you.

Of course, this is not to say that the magic of human connection experienced in this way is not dependent on one’s subject. Each person has a different story, and understandably, these stories affect people in different ways. Learning to be my own film director and interviewer has been an incredible experience–challenging, certainly, at times, but also eye-opening in the way that it has changed my view of the essential interview experience that any journalist knows all too well. When I first stepped into the Harvard Media Production studio, I thought that the careful setup of lights, cameras, and innumerable wires against a black backdrop was formidable–nauseating, even. How could the connections and conversation that I’ve seen transpire in some of the most powerful interviews I’ve conducted come about in here–a place so pristine and mechanical? And with a camera imposing on the conversation throughout? To me, the very idea seemed antithetical to the fluid and natural meandering that a good conversation should take. But since conducting my first filmed interview, I’ve come to see the camera differently. No longer is it the imposing, statuesque machine standing guard over a conversation–no, rather it is simply bearing witness to the magic of the human conversation taking place before its eyes. It is an extension of myself, as the interviewer, that is able to capture far more than I could and preserve it for far longer. Though I came to this class with no natural proclivity for filmmaking, I’ve since come to appreciate the camera for making it possible for me to capture the essential vulnerability of a conversation between an interviewer and interviewee, and to preserve the intricacies of human emotion in a way that even the most eloquent writing cannot. The camera has given me another pair of eyes with which to witness how the telling of someone’s story can change me, as the listener, and continues to remind me why we find it so valuable to tell our own stories as well.

Ultimately, throughout the course of this semester, I’ve realized that the camera doesn’t have to work to do what every writing teacher I’ve ever had has instructed me to do: show, don’t tell. Instead, the filmmaker’s task is to take the raw material that is already poised for showing and shape it so that it tells a story.

As the interviewer and filmmaker, it has been my job to make the two mediums work together . I used to see the camera as this imposing, mechanical, rigid device standing intrusively at the borders of human conversation and interaction. After all, it cannot cry or laugh or question in the way that a human interviewer or observer could.

But there is inherent value in this too–the camera may not be able to deliver emotion itself, but it can certainly inspire it.

And now, the final product! My first film :)

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