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In The Tall Grass -

Educational Media Reviews Online - May 16th, 2007

Date Entered: 5/18/2007

Reviewed by Martha Kelehan, Binghamton University

In the Tall Grass looks at the civilian justice system called Gacaca used by Rwandans to gain some measure of reconciliation and justice in the years since the 1994 genocide. In Rwanda perpetrators and victims of the genocide continue to live side-by-side, hampering the ability of many to heal. The documentary focuses on the Gacaca trial initiated by Joanita Mukarusnaga, whose husband and four children were killed during the genocide. Despite fearing for her own safety for agreeing to speak out at the trial, Joanita names her neighbor Butera as one of the leaders in the murder of her family. The judges that preside over the publicly-held trial are drawn from all members of Rwandan society - male and female, Tutsi and Hutu. After hearing conflicting stories, the judges struggle to make sense of what happened that April so many years ago and to bring to justice those who murdered Joanita’s family.

Given the subject matter, it should come as no surprise that the film contains numerous disturbing images of the genocide. The production value is extremely high. The DVD contains several extra features, including a lesson-plan, a photo gallery, a written statement by the director, and additional information on the history of Gacaca in Rwanda. This film is recommended for scholars interested in Rwanda, as well as for those interested in the truth and reconciliation process. 


Library Journal - April 15, 2007

In the Tall Grass: Rwanda's Search for Redemption; Inside the Citizen-Based Justice System Gacaca. color. 57 min. In Rwandan w/English subtitles. J. Coll. Metcalfe, dist. by Choices Inc., 421 S. Beverly Dr., 5th fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; 310-203-0606; 2006. DVD ISBN 1-933724-08-0. $99.99. Public performance.

When the Rwandan president's plane crashed in 1994, tribal war ensued. During the 100-day genocide, over 100,000 Tutsi were slaughtered. Only a handful of Tutsi survived and now live surrounded by those who participated in the murder of their families and friends. The Rwandan government reinstated the Gacaca, a type of tribal court, in hopes of paving the way for justice and reconciliation. Incorporating interviews and horrifying archival footage, In the Tall Grass is the story of a woman who survived and now risks her life to confront the man responsible for the murder of her husband and five children. Interviews with accused and accuser offer different perspectives on this terrible story. The film presents a haunting look at the atrocities but the possibility of hope for the future. Special DVD features include the director's story, a photo gallery, background on the Gacaca, and lesson plans. Recommended to both academic and public libraries for a human perspective on the genocide in Rwanda and its impact on the country and its people.—Beth Traylor, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libs.

Booklist - February 1st, 2007

In the Tall Grass: Inside the Citizen-Based Justice System Gacaca.
Dec. 2006. Choices, DVD, $99.95

Starred Review

This powerful film about Rwanda’s attempt at reconciliation opens with horrifying news footage of brutal killings, mass graves, and fleeing refugees, a result of the 100-day massacre of more than 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. The film is structured around a series of traditional grass-roots village courts, known as gacaca. Viewers follow genocide survivor Joanita Mukarusnaga, who openly accuses neighbor Anastasia Butera of killing her husband and children. Butera denies he was the murderer. Tension is palpable in the faces of the Rwandans. Subtitled testimonies and informal conversations among locals capture the frustrations and gravity of the process. Voice-over narration and interviews with national officials offer thought-provoking insight. A surprise witness comes forward with information about the remains of Mukarusnaga’s children. Poignant and disturbing scenes of Butera (who never admits his guilt) pulling bones from the ground precede a dignified burial, which allows Mukarusnaga some measure of peace and hope. The filmmakers’ respect for the Rwandans brings forth honest expressions of profound emotions, creating an intimacy that evokes viewer compassion and understanding of the horrific genocide and aftermath.

— Abby Alpert

Booklist - February 2007

Top 10 Black History Video and DVD 2007

Boasting both new programs, including Been Rich All My Life and Rising from the Rails, and re-releases, such as A Time for Burning, this list of outstanding black-history programs updates our previous 2005 list. These selections are culled from reviews appearing in Booklist from February 15, 2005, through February 1, 2007.

In the Tall Grass: Inside the Citizen-Based Justice System Gacaca.

This powerful film about Rwanda’s attempt at reconciliation following the horrific 1994 genocide concentrates on one survivor, who openly accuses her neighbor of killing her husband and children. A poignant, disturbing, and revealing documentary.

- Sue Ellen Beauregard, Editor

Video Librarian - January/February 2007

In the Tall Grass ***
(2006) 57 min. DVD: $99.95. Choices, Inc. PPR. ISBN: 1-933724-08-0.
The aftermath of Rwanda’s internecine genocide saw the flowering of community courts called “Gacaca” (or “justice on the grass”), designed to bring both punishment to the guilty and reconciliation to a brutalized nation. J. Coll Metcalfe’s documentary In the Tall Grass follows the experience of Joanita Mukarusanga, who accused her neighbor of killing her husband and abducting her four children during the civil war. Since the bodies of the children were never recovered (they may have been buried alive after being kidnapped), Joanita’s sole hope of recovering their remains for a proper funeral rests in the Gacaca system. However, her expectations of judicial redress are not high, and in a sense her emotions mirror the Rwandan mindset of trying to piece together a country that may have been irreparably broken. If the Gacaca cannot function as an omnipotent court in the Western sense of jurisprudence, at least it provides a forum for victims to confront their attackers without fear of retribution; indeed, the film’s power comes from Joanita’s direct charge against her neighbor, who claims only to have been a witness to the murders and to have no knowledge of what became of Joanita’s missing children. DVD extras (including a director’s statement, guidebook, and background on the Gacaca) offer more insight into this Rwandan approach to reconciliation. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (P. Hall)

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