The new documentary by a filmmaker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is furthering African cinema’s international visibility.
Kinshasa Makambo, screened at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival andthe competitive section of Cinéma du Réel International Documentary Film Festival in Paris, confirms Dieudo Hamadi’s growing recognition.
In February, Hamadi was recognised for his advancement of nonfiction filmmaking at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, United States.Honing his filmmaking method, he is confirming his auteur status.
In Kinshasa Makambo he has composed a hard-hitting documentary that testifies to the blockages in the DRC. After Examen d’Etat (National Diploma), which focuses on education, and Maman Colonelle (Mama Colonel) about an exemplary female police officer, he returns here to political investigation, as in Atalaku, which followed a municipal election campaign from a village.
Manning the camera himself, Hamadi filmed the demonstrations that rocked Kinshasa in 2016 and 2017. The situation is tense, as Joseph Kabila clings to power, defying the Constitution to delay the elections and to run for a third term. In this context, Hamadi follows the youth who take to the streets to demand the president’s departure, unintimidated by the resistance of the well-armed security forces.
The ensuing confrontations are violent. Hamadi holds his camera steady amid the clashes,though at times it lurches and pitches as the filmmaker runs with the embattled demonstrators.
Hamadi’s position is not that of a reporter in the middle of a demonstration. He does not globalise the crowd; he singles out three activists he knows and approaches them to show us their struggle and commitment. These friends call themselves “survivors of the system”.
Christian wants to liberate the country despite his mother’s concern when he takes to the streets. Ben has returned clandestinely to the DRC, after having gone into exile in 2015, and is determined to protest. Jean-Marie, an opponent fresh out of prison — where he had been tortured —joins his comrades.
“We need direct action,”state these youths, who dream of a better future in which they escape their precariousness.
When longtime opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and a candidate in the postponed elections, advocates dialogue with the authorities, the young men protest: “He preaches nonviolence but the regime resorts to violence.” Their discussions about whether to take the risk of a popular uprising that may end in a bloodbath are heated.
Hamadi participates in his protagonists’ meetings, framing them in close-ups. This proximity is one of his trademarks. His camera espouses both the movements in the streets and the private dialogues between the youth.
Moving from indoors to outdoors, Kinshasa Makambo finds its dynamism without relinquishing its guiding principle: questioning how to make the country evolve. Moreover, it offers a precious testimony of Tshisekedi’s final meetings:this charismatic opponent, respected for his years in detention, who animated the UDPS with his fervour. His stature is a driving force but is also overbearing for those who advocate offensive action against the regime.
After more and more demonstrations, which are increasingly violently repressed, the situation becomes locked in a stalemate. The bodies pile up, visible in raw photos. The opponents meet, talk, stand up to the police’s teargas, and try to hold out.
Hamadi then transports us to two months later, where we learn of the death of Tshisekedi after his departure for medical treatment in Brussels. The DRC’s horizons seem to cloud for want of a credible leader, but new perspectives open at the same time. The Quatrième Voie (Fourth Way) militants remain at the ready, even though the crowds have demobilised.
The echoes from the streets die down, as the film turns to evoking the lot of the three protagonists. One, arrested by the security services, is in prison. Another, his strategies contested by the militants, has been sidelined and continues the fight elsewhere. The third still takes to the streets to demand elections, postponed until December 2017, and then again, until December 2018.
The director’s bitterness is palpable, imposing a reflection about the DRC’s lot and how to contest an authoritarian regime.
Kinshasa Makambo means “Kinshasa Conundrum”. In it, Hamadi tackles the people’s aspirations head on, providing us with ample food for thought. He confirms himself as a citizen cineaste, skilled at capturing the troubles of the country to question its beating heart.