Norwich student stars in World Cup 'slumdog' film
By Keith Morris
2010: A Norwich student, who escaped with his mother from the genocide in Rwanda, is one of the young stars in the new film Africa United which hits the cinema screen this weekend (October 22) and is being touted as the next Slumdog Millionaire.
City College Norwich student, 16 year old Roger Nsengiyumva (pictured far right), plays a young footballer who embarks on an epic 3,000-mile journey across Africa with four friends to take part in the opening ceremony of the football World Cup armed only with a World Cup wallchart.
Roger landed the part in the film by chance after the producer saw his picture on the front of his mother, Illuminée’s book “Miracle in Kigali” and learnt that he had had trials with Norwich City FC.
Nine days after he was born, Roger’s father, John, was murdered at the height of the genocide in Rwanda. Illuminée embarked on a horrific journey with her newborn son strapped to her back. At any moment a wrong move could have seen them join the 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were slaughtered in just three months.
After their narrow escape, the pair moved to Norwich with a cousin who was studying at the University of East Anglia and they were granted British citizenship in 2004. They found support and friendship from local church-goers first at Bowthorpe Church and then at Holy Trinity in Norwich.
Christian film producer, Jackie Sheppard, said: “Africa United is the story of three Rwandan children who find themselves walking to the World Cup in South Africa with only a World Cup wall chart for a map and a bundle of sass and ingenuity, gathering a team of displaced youngsters around them as they go.
“It’s a fun, adventure story that doesn’t shy away from the real issues of Africa, but introduces them lightly, so we have orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS, a child-soldier, a sex-worker - but the kids just accept these things as normal parts of their life. We also have a middle-class Rwandan boy who has a mobile phone and plasma TV.
“The film is both funny and moving and preview audiences have laughed, cried and agreed that it’s a film that will stay with you longer after you have left the cinema.”
Roger plays Fabrice, a middle class boy who’s good at football and ends up getting spotted for a trial and invited to take part in the World Cup opening ceremony. His footballing skill, which landed him a trial with the Canaries, and his Rwandan background, meant the part was almost written for him.
With no acting experience, and the late casting, Roger was thrown in at the deep end and had just a two-week drama course to help before he flew out to Africa to begin filming.
Roger, who is now studying towards a Public Services National Diploma, said: "It was scary, but once I got into the swing of it I loved it and it's definitely what I want to do.
"In Africa United I was playing who I might have been if I'd stayed in Rwanda, although my character Fabrice is really quite well off. But I do think about who I might have been without the education I've been able to get in England."
Fabrice is spotted by a football scout looking for young players to represent Africa at the World Cup ceremony in Johannesburg and told to turn up at an audition in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. A wrong bus leads him to a children’s refugee camp in the Congo and the epic journey begins.
Roger says he wants to finish his studies in Norwich and is also hoping to make more films in the future. “I’d love to do another film,” he said. He has already played the part of a cave boy in forthcoming BBC drama Hominid.
Africa United won a standing ovation when it was shown at the Toronto Film Festival and it has been hailed as a powerful and entertaining story of courage and redemption.
Though not an overtly 'Christian' film, there is much Christian input and prayer that has gone into its making and former Head of the Evangelical Alliance and now International Director of Micah Challenge, Joel Edwards, has recommended it.
“This is an imaginative film aimed at children but dealing with grown-up issues. It’s a suspense drama with positive values which will not only entertain but give your youth group and Sunday School classes something to get involved in. If you are a leader with progressive ideas about educating your kids and congregation this is going to be a great tool. Anyway don’t just take my word for it, please go and see it during the opening weekend.”
The film opens at the Odeon Norwich from Friday and Comic Relief will receive 25% of any profits it makes.