“Maman, we’re going to free this country” young Kinshasa slum dweller Christian tells his mother.
“Lumumba was going to free this country and he was killed” his mother responds and adds, “You think you’re going to do what Lumumba couldn’t.”
As we see in the one hour fifteen minute documentary film “Kinshasa Makambo” it is not Christian alone who will “free” the Congolese people. In the scenes following the dialog with his mother Christian shouts directions to a horde of other youth facing the troops loyal to the rule of Joseph Kabila. Christian is clearly a leader but he is not the only young leader featured in the Congolese Dieudo Hamadi’s film.
Ben has just returned from the U.S. to rejoin the struggle and Jean Marie has just been released from the notorious Kinshasa prison of Makala. We see in the film the reaction of their families to these three young men’s political activism. Though varied in tone and content each family’s response stops just short of the message that each should keep their distance. They are courting danger and proximity exposes family members to the danger. How different then are the celebratory greetings and embrace of Ben and Jean Marie when the two return to their brothers and sisters in the struggle.
Even more than the scenes of demonstrations where the young Congolese defy Kabila’s troops and risk death, the effusive welcome reveals that the power of resistance and making change flows not from the individual but from those who join them in the fight. Lumumba is quoted once in the film:
“One day, the history of the Congo won’t be written in the United Nations, in Washington, Paris or Brussels but in the streets of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kisangani… It will be a story of glory and dignity.”
The attention and awards gained by the film maker’s later documentary “Downstream to Kinshasa” (2020) has generated interest in this 2018 film. Both were shown as a double feature on the streaming site MUBI last September and both can be rented on Amazon Prime Video. While “Downstream” was intended to memorialize victims of the forgotten conflict in Kisangani in eastern Congo, “Kinshasa Makambo” covers the popular uprisings bringing down the Kabila regime after father and son’s twenty year rule. In contrast to the support for the plea of victims of the forgotten Kisangani War, the earlier film pays homage to the courage, the leadership qualities, the Christian faith (in the case of Christian) and the resolve of the three young men the film focuses on.
Hamadi is not only a fine storyteller in this film. Many of the scenes are filmed and edited in a cinematic style that convinces this viewer he will continue to gain a larger international reputation. One can only hope that his importance as an artist respected internationally will also protect him and his role as a leading documentarian of the Congolese people’s ongoing progress in freeing their land and themselves from the plunder of their resources.
One of the most dramatic suite of scenes in “Kinshasa Makambo” takes us from Ben squatting in the center of a sea of empty plastic bottles to his home where he cuts select bottles into shape. Poised directly above Ben’s bent back, the camera lingers on the bottles and in the next shot on the bottles at his home awaiting their repurposing as Ben slices into one. We don’t miss the irony that many of the bottles are labeled either “American Water” or “Canadian Pure” in a land with the second largest river in the world flowing through it. In a later segment Ben is seen brushing his teeth with water he has purchased. Hamadi makes “message” films but the messages he communicates he leaves open to the viewer’s interpretation and attention to detail.
Only later in the film do we learn Ben’s water bottles will help demonstrators fend off the effects of the most potent tear gas fired by the police. Jean Marie instructs a group of demonstrators in proper use of the homemade gas masks and the film then moves on to a shot of masked and butter-smeared faces awaiting deployment to the streets.
Lumumba’s vision that the Congolese people will make their own history becomes contemporary reality as we watch the rally celebrating Etienne Tshisekedi, the leading opposition politician, on his return from abroad. Beginning slowly with almost painful restraint, Tshisekedi affirms the demands made by voices in the crowd culminating in his affirmation of the date of Kabila’s last day in power. Other than noting his commitment to non-violence and the long Congolese history of struggle against authoritarian rule, Tshisekedi issues no direction or instruction on mobilizing the people’s power that ultimately brings down the Kabila regime. As the film consistently and powerfully reveals, no elder, no single political organizer or spokesperson is leading this uprising. The filmmaker demonstrates with this film that it is in art as well as in politics that it is in immersing oneself in the people’s dreams, their struggle, sacrifices and achievements that the power of the artist, as well as the political leader, participates in making history.
To view the trailer for the film copy and paste in your browser the link below. The film can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $2.99.