Daniel Nelson

The sprawling, diverse, shape-shifting Congo defeats any attempt to capture the country in a single film.

It easily vanquishes This Is Congo, but if the documentary loses the war it wins an important battle, by shedding light on a handful of lives at a particular moment in a particular area.

The main character is Mamadou Ndala, an army colonel who is successfully fighting rebels around Goma. Perhaps too successfully, the film reports in the final segment that comes with a Congolese twist in the tale.

There’s also Hakiza, who has been displaced several times by fighting as militias and armies come with guns blazing into peaceful communities, and “Mama Romance”, who earns a living by trading in gemstones. It’s an illegal living, but legality has no meaning in swathes of the country where government writ hardly runs and government soldiers and rebel fighters often change sides as a way of getting control of resources.

Hakiza is not fleshed out, apart from the vivid fact that every time he flees the flames and incoming firepower he carries his trusty sewing machine, which ensures that wherever he lands up he always has a living (“Whenever I have to run I never forget this machine.”).  He and Mama Romance, whose wheeling and dealing we glimpse, are living examples of Congolese resilience. But Ndala is the main focus.

The arc of the film runs from his opening words as, still armed, he surveys his farm: “To grow up as a child in Congo according to God’s will is to grow up in Paradise.” The rest of the film illustrates his next words: “Perhaps because of the will of man, growing up in Congo is to grow up in misery … because of these unjust wars imposed on the people that make life miserable.”

It’s a sad story, lit up by humour, intentional and unintentional, and by the force of humanity, the sheer verve, even in the most adverse surroundings. The battle scene, where Ndala takes on the M23 militia, is a terrific piece of filming: dangerous, wild, horrific, comic, intense.

It’s a vivid, disturbing Congo snapshot.

* This Is Congo is showing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on 7 March at the Royal Institute of British Architecture, at 6.15pm + Q&A with filmmaker Daniel McCabe, Fred Bauma, and Fergal Keane, and on 10 March at the BFI Southbank at 5.45pm + Q&A with McCabe, Bauma, and Ida Sawyer.

Also at the Film Festival:

Silas - 'No more business as usual in Liberia'

*  Playing for the Workers Cup on a Qatar building site

*  Pakistani democracy - straight from the horse's mouth

+ A bitter charge: 'This generation is no better than Pol Pot'


This Is Congo

This Is Congo

Image by This Is Congo


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