For the globally conscious among us who want to want to see Hotel Rwanda (how long has it been sitting in your Netflix queue?), Earth Made of Glass, exec produced by Channing Tatum, offers an emotionally engaging, informative view of post-genocide Rwanda that spares you from anything too hard to stomach. The idea of the film is not to replay the horror of the Rwandan genocide, but to find a blueprint for peace and ending cycles of violence in conflict areas. Tatum saw producing the movie as an opportunity to educate himself as well as younger viewers. “I knew of the genocide, but I didn’t know anything about it,” he told EW. “I just want to help this story get out there. My audience skews younger, and I think kids can really learn from it.”
“My 11-year-old has seen it,” said the film’s director, Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes). “I made a conscious choice not to use the footage that has been used in every film about Rwanda, with all the conflict and machetes, because you see the atrocities but you don’t even see the people.”
The filmmakers set out to tell a big-picture story but found themselves captivated by one seemingly unremarkable countryman’s struggles. While filming establishing shots in the region of Kabuye, the crew’s driver, Jean Pierre Sagahutu, pulled the car over and tearfully told the story of what happened to his family. After his two parents, four brothers, and three sisters were murdered (he survived by hiding in a septic tank for two months), Sagahutu had been scouring the country for 15 years, trying to solve the mystery surrounding his father’s death. Scranton followed Sagahutu as he interviewed villagers, many of whom tried to keep silent out of fear of retribution. He eventually tracked down and confronted his father’s killer, finding peace in finally learning the truth. “It really baffles me,” said Tatum. “I can’t understand how you can go what he went through and be able to move on the way Jean Pierre has. He has the emotional genius to understand what happened to him and teach his kids to move on, too.”
The documentary also features interviews with Rwandan president Paul Kagame and his closest aide Rose Kabuye, who was arrested during filming on false charges of international terrorism.
Sagahutu was present last year when the film screened at the Tribeca Film Festival before an audience of 400 schoolchildren. The response was overwhelming. After the film, hundreds of kids lined up to shake Sagahutu’s hand or hug him. “We tried to craft the story so that any audience could access this information,” said producer Reid Carolin. “I think we came out with the best result that we could ever have imagined.”
Earth Made of Glass debuts tonight on HBO2 at 8 p.m. and will be replayed on April 27 at 2:30 p.m.