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Why Congolese films matter
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Mon, 01 Jun 2015 12:03
BOLD MOVES: Carole Maloba and crew

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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