Rising From Ashes tells the story of Team Rwanda, a team of cyclists that, in only a few years time, have gone on to compete on an international level. The fact that this has happened in not merely one of the poorest regions on Earth, but only a couple of decades since one of the worst genocides in history, is truly extraordinary. Director TC Johnstone had a talk with X-Press about this inspiring tale.
Seven years in the making, the project started with a trip to Rwanda in 2005 with fellow cycling enthusiasts, including Tom Ritchey (inventor of the mountain bike). “We discovered there was a talent pool of Rwandan cyclists that had a dream to make it bigger than a local race. They really had a hope and a dream to become pros. They shared the tenacity and the drive, and that’s how the whole thing shot off. Just a bunch of guys with a dream.
“That was one of the inspirational things about this film. When I was first going to Rwanda, I got onto the internet to find out what people were saying about it. When I got there it was completely different. People were full of hope. People were looking for opportunity. People were looking for a hand up, rather than a hand out.”
Working with a small budget in difficult conditions, Johnstone took on the roles of director, producer, and editor to save money. “We had a camera, we wanted to tell a story, and we figured out how to make that happen. Any time I’m making films I’m looking for a story that is redemptive and tells a story of second chances. There’s very few stories that tell us who we can be. I’m attracted to that, because I want to tell that story.”
The sheer logistics of filming in Rwanda took a toll. All the equipment had to be flown in with the crew, including any possible replacements. “If you don’t have it, you don’t have it. It took us an entire day to find an extension cord. You have to think differently about filming in places like Rwanda.”
The language barrier also provided an interesting challenge to Rwanda. “Culturally their language only has 10,000 words. So I had to relearn how to ask questions, to actually get an answer. A lot of time it is how you phrase things and over time I got better at it. Just keep it simple.”
With all of the riders having lived through the genocide, it naturally became an issue of the film. “There is a saying in Africa, ‘swallow your tears,’ and Rwanda is a place that has had a lot of tears. The hardest part of the film was asking them to confront their past. I had to ask these guys thing I didn’t want to know the answers to.”
Johnstone’s interest hasn’t stopped with the completion of this project. He is also a board member of The Rising from Ashes Foundation, which continues in its support of Team Rwanda and other expansion projects, as well as planning a follow up film in the future.
Read our review of Rising From Ashes here.