Bitter Aftertaste, by Chase Beck
How does someone address the tragedy of having survived a genocide? What consolation can be found in being the only living member of a family slaughtered by armed military forces? These are not questions many of us will ever face, but for the women in Sweet Dreams, the path was clear, if fraught with obstacles: Form an all-female drumming group and open the first ice cream shop in their town. Both of these goals might seem a little strange to us, but for these women, survivors of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, such ambitions are a way in which they are redefining a country.
Perhaps the best decision the directors, Lisa and Bob Fruchtman, made was to not get in the way of the story. They offer very little guidance for the audience. In this way, the film does not presume to tell us what to think or feel, and with subjects these powerful they don’t need to. The film takes us through the entire events of this group of women as they learn about what it takes to develop and run a business. On the way, we see heartache, disappointment, and triumph. The directors show us multiple facets of everyday life, not shying away from the mundane or easily misunderstood. It is perhaps this interest in the mundane that causes this 85 minute film to feel much longer.
The majority of the documentary’s runtime is devoted to interviews with specific members of the drumming group/ice cream co-op and group meetings concerning the future plans for the ice cream shop. All of the interviews are essentially identical, focusing on the women’s past tragedies and their plans for the future. The co-op meetings are relatively short but numerous. The interviews and co-op meetings quickly mire the film in a rote tedium. The only promise of anything of interest happening onscreen is the occasional drumming performances which are fun and exciting but few and far between.
These women have suffered tremendous tragedy, there’s no doubt about that. They are all unique and interesting individuals with a challenging goal and as I watched Sweet Dreams I saw that fascinating story drained of its character by a standard documentary treatment. However, in the filmmakers defense and to their credit, they didn’t rely any fancy or modern methods which could have detracted from the story. If you are interested in grassroots women’s rights movements, this Sweet Dreams is for you. If that isn’t your thing, I suggest you look elsewhere for entertainment.