After making waves at the Toronto, Berlin and Hong Kong film festivals, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) / French / Belgian co-production Viva Riva! releases in South Africa this month. The film was co-produced by Cape Town-based Steven Markovitz.
Congolese filmmaker Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s inspiration for the multiple award winning feature was borne out of his desire to talk about his birth city, Kinshasa.
“I wanted to reflect the atmosphere of the place and look at how desire operates in certain environments. During the DRC’s oil shortage in 2001 by chance I met some oil smugglers in the south west of the country. Their mentality and desire to make money and live the high life fascinated me.’
A film in the noir gangster genre, Viva Riva! follows the adventures of Riva, an oil smuggler who falls for a beautiful woman with connections to the local gangster. When the legitimate owner of the oil arrives in Kinshasa, Riva finds himself targeted for revenge.
Wa Munga first embarked on the script seven years ago and wrote innumerable drafts. “I had the story in my head right from the start but wanted to get a better understanding of the content and characters. My background in documentaries prompted me to be as close as possible to reality so I did lots of research into oil smuggling. After all, it is real life that provides the real drama.
“My Belgian script editor Dominique Lohle was brutal with my drafts but in the end the film really works. We worked very carefully on the story’s structure and used a blackboard to plot the number of scenes with the main characters. Then I created a background and conflict lines for each character.’
Because he wanted the script to be fresh Wa Munga re-wrote it just before principal photography commenced. A measure of re-writing also took place during the shoot.
The money game
Wa Munga met South African producer Steven Markovitz at the Cannes Film Festival four years ago.
Says Markovitz: “At the time Djo was looking for a South African co-producer for Viva Riva! We decided to work together in an attempt to break the divide between Francophone and Anglophone Africa and to merge the best of both worlds. Djo and I created a Kinshasa-based company called Suka! Productions and made two documentaries, Congo in Four Acts and State of Mind.’
Markovitz found it impossible to raise money in South Africa for a film that was to be shot outside of the country by a Congolese director. “I managed to source a bit of funding in the DRC and the rest came from France and Belgium. We secured sales at the Berlin and Toronto festivals and have attached an international sales agent. The South African release is handled by Indigenous Film Distribution,’ explains Markovitz.
Lack of infrastructure
Viva Riva! is the first feature film ever to be shot in the DRC.
“As there is no film infrastructure here I tried to film on location as much as possible,’ notes Wa Munga. “We shot over 37 days and things went pretty well. The people of Kinshasa not only accepted the project but were excited about it. Everyone was very cooperative.’
The film was shot on a Canon 5D sourced from France. Wa Munga describes it as a “fantastic accident’ that they got the camera at all as only two other feature films in the world were using the Canon 5D at the time.
“We couldn’t afford film prints so we knew we had to shoot digital. Our only other option was the RED camera which is very expensive and has a complicated workflow that would not work in the DRC. I think the 5D is a miracle – it’s cost effective and produces amazing images,’ he comments.
Post-production took place in France with the final mix expedited in Belgium.
A good film in Africa
Viva Riva! has been sold to the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Australia and New Zealand.
Says Markovitz: “I think the film has been well received internationally because it’s perceived as something fresh from Africa. Viva Riva! is surprising and entertaining with good production values.
“Djo has a rare talent of making entertaining films with deeper meaning. He is part of a new wave of African directors who want to make films that have integrity and find wide audiences. Djo draws on references from Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.’
Viva Riva! won six African Movie Academy Awards including best director and best film and recently won the MTV Movie Award for Best African Film.
“I’m delighted about the success of the film and I hope this will be an opening for more Africans to work together,’ concludes Wa Munga.
The film releases on 16 September in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, the DRC, Republic of Congo, Mali and Senegal. It premiered at the recent Durban International Film Festival.