Documenting Hope

Cinema Fellowships & Student Research
July 18, 2017

Alexis Lopez ’19 made his third trip to Rwanda this summer as a part of his Summer Scholars project “Waiting to Die Tomorrow: A Documentary on Rwanda’s Fight Against HIV/AIDS Post Genocide.” 

Denison’s Summer Scholars program funds ten weeks of collaborative and independent student research in the arts, humanities, and sciences. Participating scholars meet with a faculty advisor at least once a week during the summer, and then present their research to the Denison community at the beginning of the fall semester. 

For Lopez, Summer Scholars provided the perfect opportunity to execute pre-production for a documentary short film. The film will be a case-study, following a young man living with HIV in Rwanda who contracted the virus from his mother after the Rwandan Genocide.

“I’m always interested in telling stories that impact. I like exploring things beyond what is on the surface,” Lopez explained. “There are people doing entertainment…but, I also need something that Denison has been pushing: always ask questions and keep learning more.”

“I need something that Denison has been pushing: always ask questions and keep learning more.”

Lopez met the subject of his film through the non-governmental organization WE-ACTx for Hope, a Chicago chapter of the international organization WE-ACTx (Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment). The organization aims to increase HIV-infected women’s and children’s access to primary health care and treatment in resource-limited settings in Rwanda. They offer confidential testing, nutritional support, counseling, support groups, and youth programs.

WE-ACTx’s summer camp is a two-week program (one week in a city, one week in rural towns) that uses volunteers as “peer parents” to work with Rwandan children ages six to sixteen. Peer parents spend time with the children playing sports, doing yoga for relaxation, making arts and crafts, holding musical classes, and providing counseling for those who need emotional support. Many children who attend the camp grow up to become peer parents themselves.

Lopez served as a peer parent on his first trip to Rwanda and documented it on video for his high school. He then caught the attention of WE-ACTx after they learned he was studying Cinema as a first-year student at Denison. WE-ACTx paid Lopez to visit Rwanda a second time and make an internal educational video for the organization. These visits gave Lopez a strong connection to the people of Rwanda and inspired him to make a documentary. 

The past ten weeks of Lopez’s summer research have involved intense pre-production as he organized all of the necessary work to make his film happen: budgeting, obtaining release forms, doing background research, and making contacts with various governmental and non-governmental agencies. He visited Rwanda for the third time this June as a part of this preparation. 

The next phase for Lopez involves raising money for production and shooting the documentary. He will apply to various grants to help with the costs of production, visit Rwanda a fourth time to film interviews and coverage, and edit the film during his senior year. It’s a lot to take on, but worth it to Lopez as he is given the opportunity to learn, work in the real world, travel, and – of course - film. 

However, the most rewarding aspect of Lopez’s research and filmmaking process is the connection that he has to WE-ACTx and the subject of his film: “When you’re there [in Rwanda], you see the excitement for progress and collaboration to work to improve people’s lives. It’s an environment that’s very loving and encouraging…it’s become a family to me and to them as well.”

For more about WE-ACTx, visit their website:

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