What adventurous American movie fan isn't fascinated by the unusual film cultures and distinctive movie industries of other countries, especially those outside of Europe and Japan that have had little exposure in the West? Whether mined for overlooked gems ("Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project," a recent six-movie set from The Criterion Collection, showcases masterpieces from such places as Turkey, Senegal and Bangladesh) or for artifacts of sheer outrageousness (the Mondo Macabro DVD label is dedicated to "The Wild Side of World Cinema"), the landscape of international film is a pirate's paradise of hidden treasure.
In recent years, several documentaries have explored or retraced some of the odder bywaters of world cinema. "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" (2010) unearthed the history of Filipino exploitation cinema, while "Not Quite Hollywood" (2008) did the same for Australia. The Nigerian film industry -- said to be the third most active in the world, after Hollywood and Bollywood -- has inspired no less than three competing documentaries, all released in 2007-2008: "This Is Nollywood," "Welcome to Nollywood," and "Nollywood Babylon."
I had expected 2013's "Finding Hillywood" -- described on its website as "a feature documentary about the beginning of Rwanda's film industry, and a real life example of how art heals" -- to be more of the entertaining same, but it's different, in part because Rwanda doesn't yet have a real "film industry." In fact, Rwanda doesn't even have movie theaters, or at least not more than a handful of them, which means that the country's budding filmmakers not only have to produce and shoot their movies themselves, they have to barnstorm them around the country, transporting video projectors and setting up inflatable screens in rural villages and other locations (some with only limited access to electricity), where they and their films are as much a novelty as a circus with clowns and elephants. (The raising of the screen and the raising of the big top are similarly activities, social and full of promise for delights to come.)
Apparently, the effect of these film is as therapeutic as that of a circus, especially in a country still trying to recover from the genocidal massacre of 1994, when close to a million Rwandans -- some 20 percent of the population, mostly members of the ethnic Tutsi population -- were murdered in 100 days, mainly by the Hutu majority.
"Finding Hillywood" screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 5) at the Malco Studio on the Square as the latest offering in the "Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers," coordinated locally by Indie Memphis, a program that -- true to its title -- brings not just recent movies but the makers of those movies to venues across the South. (Some "Southern Circuit" films on the current tour that made it to Memphis earlier include "How to Make Movies," "Birth of the Living Dead" and "The Iran Job.") Seattle-based Leah Warshawski, who produced and directed the film with Christopher Towey, will attend and answer questions after the screening; she should have some fascinating stories to share.