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Media designers learning "German style"

A new media design program in Rwanda turns its students into media all-rounders. The vocational training includes internships in Germany and gives trainees the skills to shape the future of Rwanda's media industry.

It's Monday evening and this particular post-production studio in Berlin is packed. Two interns from Rwanda huddle around the sound engineer, looking over his shoulder as he dubs voice-overs for a TV report. As someone finishes speaking a voice-over in the sound booth next door, intern Louis Kassana jumps up and points to the various loud speakers hanging in the studio. "Fascinating!" he shouts. "The voice track is recorded in mono but the music and natural sounds are recorded in stereo." Meanwhile, the other Rwandan intern Robert Karara uses the short break to quietly ask a few questions about the mixing console.

Louis and Robert spent the weekend "watching a lot of German soccer," as they put it. But watching one Bundesliga game after the other wasn't just for fun; it was actually homework for their internship at Deutsche Welle's sport desk in Berlin.

Rwandian media designers at Deutsche Welle in Berlin (photo: Alice Kohn)

Gaining a new perspective - interns Robert Karara (r) and Louis Kassan (third from right) during a DW production

The internship is part of a two-year diploma in media design offered by the KWETU Film Institute based in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. The program has 15 trainees who learn technical aspects of media production, including the recording and editing of video and audio. They also complete three internships as part of the program, with the third and final internship taking the students to Germany. Here they spend eight weeks gaining experience at diverse media companies and film distributors.

The program is based on the German system of combining theory with hands-on training. It is unique in East Africa, and Louis and Roberts are among the first set of trainees to be taking part. This "German Style" vocational training, as it is often called in Rwanda, is part of the Rwanda Media Project initiated by the Oscar-winning German film director Volker Schlöndorff, together with the KWETU Film Institute and DW Akademie.

As well as opening up new prospects for young media makers, the idea is also to professionalize Rwanda's film and TV industry in the long term. The project is funded by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German development agency, GIZ.

Training on the job, media designers in Rwanda (photo: DW Akademie/Florian Kroker).

Media designers from the Rwanda Media Project practice filming techniques

Although more than 20 years have passed since the Rwandan genocide, its impact can still be felt - and it is still affecting the media landscape. During the genocide, which saw Tutsis massacred by Hutus, radio stations and newspapers were often used to spread hate speech and propaganda. One consequence of the country's "Never again" approach has been to strictly regulate freedom of information and freedom of the press.

However, a new law on access to information was introduced in 2013 with the intention of liberalizing the media. The changes have opened up Rwanda's media market, making it possible to establish private media companies. The country now needs professionally trained staff, and there are good prospects for young media designers.

A broader perspective

From left to right: Louis Kassana, Niels Eixler and Robert Karara (photo: Alice Kohn).

Mentor Niels Eixler (center) with Rwandan interns

That's what 25 year-old Louis Kassana is hoping for. "Rwanda's media landscape is changing so quickly and new and independent stations are starting up," he says. "They now need people like us!"

Niels Eixler, the editor-in-chief of DW's sports desk who mentors the interns in Berlin, is particularly pleased with how much information the interns are soaking up while in Germany. "Here in Berlin, they're starting to see things from a different angle," Eixler says, "and it gives them a new perspective to add to what they’ve already learned in Rwanda." Eixler, who also conducts workshops with the interns in Kigali, wants them to start thinking like journalists, too. In the studio, he asks the two interns questions to get them more involved in the production process.

"What do you think about the format? What could be improved?" he asks. The interns look slightly uncomfortable. "I prefer editing," says Louis. "That's where you can solve problems that occurred during the filming."

But problems can also appear during post production. In the post-production studio, Louis and Robert are helping dub a report into English from German. In the original, FC Bayern trainer Pep Guardiola congratulates his team, saying, "Wir sind woom!" ("We are woom!") But how do you translate 'woom'? Louis suggests editing out the sound. "But you'll still see his mouth moving," Robert points out. They decide to consult with a dubbing assistant but to do that, they have to go to another building. So off they set down the hall, a quick left and a high five for a colleague, up some steps, past the production studios, through a security check, through the turnstiles and then up some stairs. "And that," laughs Louis, "is why I bought a pair of runners the first week I got here!"

A new media generation

Robert Karara (right) and Louis Kassana editing at Deutsche Welle in Berlin (photo: Alice Kohn).

Robert Karara (left) and Louis Kassana want to change Rwanda's media landscape

As well as new runners, the two interns are also gaining new insights into working procedures. "Even though it's a cliché, Germans really do work fast and efficiently," says Louis. When he finishes his media design studies, he wants to work at one of Rwanda's new media companies. "By taking this work ethic with me, I will really be able to change Rwanda's media industry," he says.

But right now he and Robert still need to solve the Guardiola problem. The dubbing assistant comes up with a translation. He'll have Guardiola tell his team, "We are the business!"

"That's sorted then," says Robert. Louis leans back and takes a long look at his runners. "Tomorrow evening when we’ve finished producing the show," he smiles, "we're going to have a soccer match with the sports desk team."

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