There are few sure paths to peace and happiness, but a remarkable group of Rwandan women have found one that seems to be working: music and ice cream. Sweet Dreams, a documentary that follows Rwanda’s first and only all-women’s drumming troupe and ice cream shop, tells the story of the Hutu and Tutsi women, who joined together after the 1994 Rwandan genocide to partner with Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream and embark on a journey of peace, independence, and possibility.
Rwanda’s 1994 genocide has been well documented. Nearly 1 million minority Tutsis were killed by their own neighbors, friends, and family members, and by the end of the conflict, those Hutus and Tutsis who survived were left with a broken country bereft of any remnant of the country’s former spirit. But even as the economy and infrastructure began to be rebuilt, bringing joy back to the Rwandan people remained a challenge. As Kiki Katese, the pioneering Rwandan theater director put it, “People are not like roads and buildings.”
So, Katese asked, “How do we rebuild a human being?”
In an effort to put the pieces of Rwanda back together, Katese began Ingoma Nshya, the country’s first and only women’s drumming troupe, open to both Hutu and Tutsi women. While drumming had been a male-only activity before the war, Katese couldn’t find a viable reason to withhold the art from women any longer. Survivors, whose heartbreaking stories of loss are documented in the film, found solace, comfort, and healing in the drumming troupe. According to Katese, “Reconciliation is not just about two peoples. People have to reconcile with themselves, with happiness, with life.”
But while the drumming troupe helped the women emotionally, the everyday difficulties of providing for their families did not go away.
And so Katese’s idea to create another Rwandan first was born. She told the women she wanted to open an ice cream shop and, after explaining what ice cream was, invited Brooklyn’s Blue Marble founders, Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, to teach the women the business. The film follows the women from the very beginning of the partnership, when Miesen first explains the concept and then the women visit local a honey maker and dairy cooperative. (The movie will bring you to tears multiple times, and the first might be around the nine-minute mark when Miesin shares her genuine pride in participating in the venture with the Rwandan women.)
Newly minted entrepreneurs, the Rwandan women democratically elect their leader and are soon opening their shop, dubbed Inzozi Nziza, or Sweet Dreams. Following the government mandate to work together as Hutus and Tutsis to rebuild the country, they also work together to rebuild their own spirits and the spirits of their neighbors and communities. For filmmakers Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, who returned to the country four times over the course of a year to make the documentary, “both the drumming and ice cream projects embody the idea that Rwandans need not only the means to survive, but also the means to live, ways to reconnect with joy, hope, and previously unimagined possibilities.”
The film opens in New York at Quad Cinema on Friday, November 1.