"My only love sprung from my only hate," reveals Juliet in Shakespeare's beloved play about star-crossed lovers. Director Ben Proudfoot explores the thin line between love and hate in a new, surprisingly charming and uplifting feature documentary set in Kigali, Rwanda the epicenter of the genocide that left a million dead two decades earlier.
Camera crews follow a small American theater group led by a retired Dartmouth Professor Andrew Garrod as they journey to Rwanda expecting to mount a reconciliatory production of Romeo & Juliet with an all-African cast. These self-realized millennials, most orphaned by the horrors of violence, form the unorthodox company drawn from the contentious Hutu and Tutsi population divisions. The cast members' stories are as emotionally rich as the characters they are portraying. For the young woman playing "Juliet," the ethnic divisions are personal her father and many of her family members were murdered 20 years ago by Hutu perpetrators. This production marks the first time many of the Tutsi have interacted closely with anyone of Hutu background, and vice versa. The Oxford-educated Garrod believes the parallels between Shakespeare's classic tragedy and the lives of these students who grew up in the wake of genocide will serve as the foundation to "reconciliation" for the entire country. He gets anything but. No amount of academic study could have prepared Garrod for what he is about to endure.
The beautiful, passionate, and headstrong T t catches the attention of Garrod who casts her as Juliet. After a funding source suddenly falls through, Garrod doubles down and empties his personal pension fund to float the production. When the cast learns that they will not be paid for their work, T t leads a rebellion against the Westerners, arguing that Rwanda has already achieved "reconciliation," and that as rich white men they have no business in Rwanda, blind to the fact that more than healing ancient wounds, the cast is struggling to rise out of poverty and pay for their education. The strain between the director and his star leads to a deep divide between the cast, and the unyielding Garrod is on the brink of mutiny. The result is a moving myriad of hopes and heartbreak, as expectations, personalities and cultures collide with opening night drawing ever closer.