Why Congolese films matter

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Known for their ululating Lingala tunes and gyrating vixens that pepper their music
videos, Congolese artists are nudging beyond these sultry affairs and giving us a
piece of their true cinematic talent, as Sam Charo reports.

In 2011, Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s film Viva Riva! paved the way for emerging
Congolese filmmakers. The film stood out as it won six trophies at the African
Movie Awards and was noted as a relevant work of art at the Toronto International
Film Festival (TIFF), among others, around the world. At AMA, Djo Tunda bagged the
Best Director award.

“Viva Riva was an iconic modern story, touching on everyday life,’ says Armand
Nkunda, a film producer and writer based in Kinshasa. “We had this exposition that
left people with gaping mouths.’

Beyond its volatility, the central African country has seen an upsurge of keen and
ambitious filmmakers who want to produce stories that matter.
“The government was resourceful in the recent past by giving out grants for
filmmakers,” Patrique Bouazizi, an indie filmmaker and scriptwriting trainer based
in Lubumbashi, opines. ‘I was at the ministry of culture and information with my
script recently and it looks like my pitch will be fruitful.’

Wa Munga’s film Viva Riva was made 25 years after what has been considered the
Congo revolution.

The rise of short films like Carole Maloba’s 2013 release Kisita – a film about
uncontrollable jealousy with an unexpected consequence, as an older woman
confronts her beautiful, flirtatious daughter – is a symbolic piece that has paved the
way for independent filmmakers to gain confidence with universal subjects such as
feminism, love, and human freedom.

“Kisita was a bold move that most people in the field are afraid to talk about,’ says
Patrick Katanga, a Congolese actor. “Carole was fierce with her subject and boldly
managed to express the femininity with her short film.’

The government of DRC recently embarked on spearheading creative arts in the
country that will empower its youth. This includes the initiation of a filmmaking
fund.

Clarisse Muvuba, a 33-year-old Congolese filmmaker who in 2014 was able to shoot
her film with the help of partnership funds from Cinedoc Films in France, was elated
when she recently released her film, Marathon, a documentary about an athletic
champion.

“We need these resources to enable us to move forward because it’s very difficult
to have an idea and be able to crack it alone.’ Clarisse advises, “For film art to
move forward in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there have to be people willing
to put up the money. I am grateful my idea could come to fruition. It was at the
right time and it was worth it.’

About 47% of the DRC’s population consists of youth under the age of 15, according
to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2014 stats.
“If you have a chance to do something in Congo, you have to initiate something that
has a future,’ Bouazizi says. “We’re ranked 186 out of 187 countries and
approximately 87 percent of the Congolese are living on less than a dollar a day.
Therefore creative arts not only offer an outlet for one’s frustrations, fears and
joys, but also help one release these creative tensions that are harboured in our
conscience.’

“Hundreds of young filmmakers are interested in doing film, but accessing the funds
is a tricky issue if you are not trained nor have any idea about film production,’
Carol Maloba says. “I was glad to have worked with Djo Tunda as my producer and
that creative process helped nurture my skills and experience.’

Congo’s civil war and political instability has had a negative impact on its social
fabric. The global view of the country is seen through the lens of rape, pillaging of
its natural resources and the poor wildlife conservation skills and resources that
inspired the Academy Award-nominated Documentary, Virunga.

“Issue-based documentaries like Virunga will be able to done by local filmmakers,’
Patrice Malyamungu, a seasoned cinematographer and a recipient of the fund, says.
“It’s so unfortunate that people have to travel from a different continent to tell our
own stories.’

The DRC’s film development fund is expected to be whittled down to any creative
artist who has skills in filmmaking. It will be targeting untrained film enthusiasts
who have interest in the vagaries of film production. The film fund will target young
Congolese from unfortunate backgrounds.

“We can train interested parties, especially females who are interested in film,’
Bouazizi adds. “With the help of our French and Belgian partners, we truly hope that
the future of film in Congo is going to be relevant and effective in sub-Saharan
Africa.’

Congo’s Lingala music is widely appreciated across the continent and beyond. For
years it has been a benchmark by which the country is creatively regarded, but with
the help of this fund, it’s expected that the country’s rich artistic reservoir will be
tapped and therefore help youth channel their creative energies to a sound cause
away from negative influences.

“Lots of idle youth here are used by politicians and end up indulging in bad
behaviour,’ says Malyamungu. “We do hope that everyone interested in using these
tools and funding to shape themselves will seize this opportunity and become useful
storytellers in the Congolese society and Africa in the long run.’

Written by Sam Charo

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