anne aghion’s bio
Anne Aghion has been praised as a filmmaker of poetic vision, and a unique documentarian whose multiple award-winning films, in the words of one critic, “pull us deep into the social fabric” of the places she covers—be it on the hillsides of rural Rwanda after genocide, in scientific expeditions to the vast, silent ice fields of Antarctica, or in the paradoxical lushness of Nicaragua’s urban slums.
Two brief quotes from reviews in The New York Times, which describe her as a “canny portraitist” in whose work “emotions remain crystal clear,” give a sense of Anne Aghion’s mission. At the heart of her films is a need to understand how people cope with extreme circumstances. Once drawn to a subject, she sets out to capture not the facts or figures, but the emotional landscape—the part of the story that speaks to anyone, anywhere. It is a form of filmmaking that values time, an absence of prejudgment or agenda and, above all, the patience to listen.
Her films have resonated for an astonishing range of audiences across the globe, from government leaders to news junkies, adventure travelers to cinephiles, or to communities in war-torn nations from Cambodia to the Balkans.
“All my work in film, from post–genocide Rwanda to extreme Antarctica to post–Sandinista Nicaragua, focuses on trying to understand our place in the world, in intellectual, political and social ways, as well as in emotional, visceral and almost cosmic ways. I strive to fathom how people who have been confronted to extremes coexist together, by capturing the raw emotions of those individuals and communities. In order to address these big questions and have them be accessible to as many viewers as possible without compromising on the nuance and complexity of the issues at hand, I set myself to find strong narratives and compelling characters that bear poetic and artistic qualities and thus give each viewer the power to evoke this quest on their own terms.”
THE GACACA SERIES: Anne Aghion is best known for this collection of works she made for more than decade, filming the Gacaca (pr. ga-TCHA-tcha), a controversial experiment in justice and reconstruction created to deal with the aftermath of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. There, she charted the emotional impact of a system in which open-air community courts tried genocide crimes and, in exchange for confessions, returned killers to their homes to live side-by-side with survivors.
The Gacaca Series comprises a trilogy of one-hour films and a final feature-length companion. The one-hours are: “Gacaca, Living Together Again In Rwanda?” (2003); Emmy-winner “In Rwanda we say…The family that does not speak dies” (2005), and “The Notebooks of Memory” (2009). The 2009 feature, “My Neighbor My Killer,” is one of the rare documentaries honored with a spot in Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
As works of film, The Gacaca Series has won awards and international acclaim from film and television critics. But, because they hold a unique distinction as the first long-term look at a society after conflict, the Gacaca films also give important new insight into the lasting emotional effects of mass violence in any community—from American neighborhoods plagued by gang rivalries to countries emerging from conflict. Now in the collections of scores of university libraries, the films have been included in the curricula of courses ranging from trauma studies to human rights law.
Their most moving impact has been in Rwanda, where they have been part of NGO staff training, screened for officials at the highest levels of government, and used to prepare tens of thousands of confessed genocide killers for being sent home after years in prison. Now, with the Gacaca tribunals officially ended in 2012, the films will continue to serve as the basis for community discussions around the country.
ICE PEOPLE: In 2008, Anne Aghion released “Ice People,” a documentary feature that explores the physical, emotional and spiritual adventure of living and conducting science in Antarctica. Filmed “on the ice” over the course of four months, it was described by Variety as “staggeringly beautiful,” and praised in publications as diverse as the The New York Times, USA Today, ArtForum and EARTH Magazine.
SE LE MOVIO EL PISO (THE EARTH MOVED UNDER HIM): A PORTRAIT OF MANAGUA: Anne Aghion’s award-winning 1996 directorial debut explored how slum dwellers in Managua, Nicaragua had survived the double ravages of political and natural disasters. Its recognition by the Havana Film Festival as the Best Latin American Film by a Non Latin American was the first indication of what would become Anne Aghion’s signature ability to listen to her subjects without judgment or agenda, and to evoke interviews of startling intimacy.
In 2011-12, Anne Aghion spearheaded the establishment of IRIBA CENTER For Multimedia Heritage in Kigali, a place where all Rwandans will have free access to the country’s audiovisual history dating back to before the genocide. After completing the first phase of international fundraising with a Kickstarter campaign and development grants, she has handed the reigns to Iriba’s Executive Director, Assumpta Mugiraneza, and as Co-Founder and Honorary President, is now the organization’s international “good will Ambassador.”
Anne Aghion is now in early stages of development on two film projects—one that will take her to the Indian subcontinent, and the other, drawing from her experiences in Rwanda, will focus on vicarious trauma. She is also developing an interactive multi-media art installation that evolved from her work filming “Ice People” in Antarctica and New Zealand.
speaking & teaching
Anne Aghion is a sought-after speaker at universities, museums, film festivals, as well as institutes dedicated to areas ranging from the arts to policy to the study of science. Teaching has also become an important pursuit for Anne Aghion, with a special interest in countries with fledging film industries.
In the spring of 2012, she gave a TEDx Talk in Paris, France, entitled “Filming Unanswerable Questions from Rwanda to Antarctica,” and in November 2012, delivered the keynote address at the Stanford Interdisciplinary Conference on Conscience at Stanford University. She is regularly invited to screen her films at venues across the globe.
In 2010-11, Anne Aghion was invited to participate in two of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminars on Human Rights, a series of nine seminars taking place over a year at different universities. The first, at the University of London, School of Advanced Study, was entitled “Fratricide and Fraternité: Understanding and Repairing Neighbourly Atrocity.” The second, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, centered on the theme of “Vulnerability and Resilience: Rethinking Human Rights for the 21st Century.” Anne Aghion’s talks were on “The Role of Documentary Film in Peace- building.”
Over the past three years, she has led documentary filmmaking workshops at the Ecole supérieure des arts visuels de Marrakesh in Morocco and the Académie libanaise des Beaux Arts in Lebanon.
- 2012 STANFORD UNIVERSITY (Stanford, USA). Keynote speaker, Stanford Interdisciplinary Conference on Conscience – Keynote Speaker.
- 2012 TEDx ESCP “Making a Difference” (Paris, France). Speaker, “Filming Unanswerable Questions from Rwanda to Antarctica”.
- 2012 NEW YORK WOMEN IN FILM AND TELEVISION (New York City, USA). Panelist, On Their Own: A conversation with women documentary directors braking barriers.
- 2009 UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (Los Angeles, USA). Panelist, Visible Evidence Conference: Genocide Survivor Testimony in Documentary Film.
- 2009 UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE (Washington, DC, USA). Participant, Strategy Workshop on Gender, Conflict and Peace-building, whose aim was to inform the direction of a new Gender Program.
- 2008 SAN FRANCISCO EXPLONATORIUM (San Francisco, USA). Speaker, Ice Stories.
- 2007 AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (New York City, USA). Speaker, New York City International Polar Weekend.
- 2006 BARNARD COLLEGE (New York City, USA). Panelist, Women and Film: Behind the Scenes, as part of Reunion 2006.
- 2005 ECOLE SUPERIEURE DES ARTS VISUELS DE MARRAKECH (Marrakesh, Morocco). Speaker, Image & civilisation: représentations visuelles et identitiés collectives.
teaching & lecturing
- 2011 & 2012 ACADEMIE LIBANAISE DES BEAUX ARTS (Beyrouth, Lebanon). Documentary Film, Master Level Course: Coached ten 4th year film students in an intensive two-week exercise to create three ten to fifteen minute documentary films from start (identifying stories and subjects) to finish (finalizing the films) in an immersive geographical situation.
- 2010 & 2011 ECOLE SUPERIEURE DES ARTS VISUELS DE MARRAKECH (Marrakech, Morocco). Proposal Writing for Documentary Film, Master Level Course: Five of fifteen projects presented in final pitching sessions to broadcast professionals from Europe and Morocco resulted in commitments and/or possible strong interest from the television commissioning editors.
- 2010 UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED STUDY (London, UK). Sawyer Seminar on Human Rights: Speaker as part of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to conduct a Sawyer Seminar on the theme of “Fratricide and Fraternité: Understanding and Repairing Neighbourly Atrocity.” The series consisted of nine distinct seminars, each a day long, that were focused on specific themes.
- 2010 UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON (Madison, US). Sawyer Seminar on Human Rights: Speaker on Representation and Human Rights as part of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to the Human Rights Initiative at the University to conduct a Sawyer Seminar on the theme of “Vulnerability and Resilience: Rethinking Human Rights for the 21st Century.” The series, which ran from February 2010 to April 2011, consisted of nine one day seminars that focused on different themes.
- 2009 COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO (Chicago, US). Visiting Artist: A weeklong series of master classes and presentations in film and journalism classes, including Wayne Kumingo’s Documentary Production and Editing, Kristin Pichaske’s Documentary Arts Laboratory, Teresa Puente’s Reporting Public Affairs–International
Anne Aghion splits her time between New York and Paris. She holds a degree in Arab Language and Literature from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York. Before making films, she spent close to a decade at The New York Times, and then at the International Herald Tribune, in Paris.
Her move into film and television began when she became Production Manager for “The Hole in the Sea,” a short documentary for Franco-German broadcaster ARTE, by the legendary documentarian Richard Leacock, with Valérie Lalonde. In subsequent years, she worked as a production and post-production manager on documentary and magazine programs for ARTE, the French premium network CANAL+, and as a location videographer, creating short weekly features for the highly-rated talk and entertainment program “Nulle Part Ailleurs,” also on CANAL+.
Before finally delving into independent filmmaking in 1999, Anne Aghion worked as Production Manager, Director of Production Development and Consultant for Pixibox Studios, the largest 2-D digital animation studio in Europe, with operations in France, Poland and Asia.
awards & honors
|2012||Rockefeller Foundation Arts & Literary Arts Residency, Bellagio, Italy.|
|2011||MacDowell Colony, Elodie Osborne Fellowship, Peterborough, US.|
|2009||Best Feature Documentary, Festival International Du Film Black De Montréal — “My Neighbor My Killer.”|
|2009||Best Documentary Nominee, Gotham Awards — “My Neighbor My Killer.”|
|2009||The Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.|
|2009||Official Selection 2009 Cannes Film Festival — “My Neighbor My Killer.”|
|2005||Emmy Award, Outstanding Informational Programming, Long Form — “In Rwanda we say… The family that does not speak dies.”|
|2005||John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.|
|2003||UNESCO Fellini Prize — “Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda?”|
|1996||Best Latin American Documentary by a Non-Latin American Filmmaker, 18th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, Cuba — “Se Le Moviò El Piso (The Earth Moved Under Him): A Portrait of Managua.”|
grants & funding
With gratitude for multiple grants from:
- The Austrian Development Cooperation
- The Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- The Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’image animée
- The Compton Foundation
- The European Commission Cordis Science Fund
- The Fulbright Program
- ITVS International
- The National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artist and Writer’s Program
- The New York State Council on the Arts
- The Peter S. Reed Foundation
- The Soros Documentary Fund of the Open Society Institute
- The Sundance Documentary Fund
- The Swiss Development Cooperation
- The UK Department for International Development
- The United States Institute of Peace
articles & citations
- “Gacaca, la dynamique des images”, in Revue d’histoire de la Shoah, Ed. Georges Bensoussan. Journal published by the Memorial de la Shoah, Paris, Issue No. 195, pp. 295-307. July-December 2011.
- “Mon Voisin mon tueur,” in XXI (Vingt et Un), a French news and culture quarterly, illustrated by Sergio Aquindo. No. 6, pp. 130-141. Spring 2009.
- “Living Together Again, In Rwanda.” in Considering Forgiveness, Ed. Aleksandra Wagner with Carin Kuoni, Matthew Buckingham, pp. 140-149, Published by Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, The New School. 2008
- Genocide Lives in Us – Women, Memory, and Silence in Rwanda.Jennie E. Burnet. The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.
- “Are You a Vulture? Reflecting on the ethics and aesthetics of atrocity coverage and its aftermath,” by Pratap Rughani. Chapter 5 of Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. Eds. Richard Lance Keeble, John Tulloch, Florian Zollmann. Published by Peter Lang Publishing, 2010.
- “Localizing Transitional Justice, Interventions and Priorities after Mass Violence,” Eds. Rosalind Shaw and Lars Waldorf, with Pierre Hazan. Stanford University Press, 2010.
- “Traditional Justice as Transitional Justice: A Comparative Case Study of Rwanda and East Timor,” by Amy Senier, in PRAXIS: The Fletcher Journal of Human Security, Vol. XXIII, 2008.
- “The Book of Calamities, Five Questions about Suffering and its Meaning,” by Peter Trachtenberg. Little, Brown & Company, 2008.
- “Rwanda’s Failing Experiment in Restorative Justice,” by Lars Waldorf, in The Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective. Eds. Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tifft. Psychology Press, 2007.