Djo Munga: The Art of Pushing Boundaries in African Cinema (Part 11)
“In Kinshasa, every day is a struggle and every night is a party. In a city where everything is for sale, Riva has something everyone wants.” – Djo Tunda wa Munga’s debut feature film, Viva Riva! had cinema buffs the world over in awe. Set in Kinshasa, DRC, the film depicts the country’s tumultuous existence as it chronicles the life of Riva, an ambitious mobster in the making, who returns home after spending a decade in Angola, only to find the country in dire straits as a result of fuel shortages. What unravels is an enthralling story of frank realism that includes crime, violence, disorder, corruption and sexuality, revealing the myriad complexities ofKinshasa and its citizens. In the final part of my interview with Munga, we talk about sex and sexuality in African films, Nollywood and his next project.
Belinda: When it comes to breaking barriers, especially on the issue of filming sex and sexuality in African cinema, how far did you want to push that boundary and why did you want to go there with one or two of the sex films in Viva Riva!?
Djo: I wanted to push as far as possible and what you see in the film, we are not making a porn film. Look at most African films, there is a night life and sex is part of the life of people…we have doctored ourselves for so long, it was important to me that we push and see…for example, we know that in Kinshasa, the problem of prostitution is quite huge and we have a city that is sexy in the sense that all the relationships between men and women and their sexuality is kind of rich. So, it was okay to say we must have this in the film but the point is not around that. It was not a point about being naïve but about looking at Africa and saying this is now and today. And it is also a genre film and together, it worked well.
Belinda: I understand you trained everyone involved in the film. Was this because there were no trained actors and crew members and what does this say about the current state of the Congolese film industry? Or was it a case whereby you wanted an organic end product?
Djo: We have no film school or institutions, nothing. We have people who have talent but that talent is not enough. We needed to teach people how to use that talent for the camera and then it became an organic work. We had to train the actors, the technicians and that’s the way things were across the film, Viva Riva!
Belinda: You show us a busy and bustling night life despite the fact that the news media would have us believe, people are locked away in their homes as a result of fear, the raping and looting we hear so much about in the news. What do you hope your film adds to the narratives of DRC and Africa as it is today?
Djo: Well, when people ask and many people write to me and say we are really proud that you have made that film. It is also the fact that people question Nollywood and you have a lot of journalists saying this is what Nollywood should do. I think it is a sign that I brought something new. Maybe like a new direction and the fact that the film is a success and has opened in these different and many countries, US, UK, Australia and South Africa. It is also a sign that first, as an African director, we have something to say to the world and the world is ready to listen to it and Africans are also ready to listen to it. And people enjoy the film. And in terms of identity, we are building our confidence.
Belinda: Let’s talk about Africa’s famous film industry, Nollywood, why do you think it has been so successful and what do you think, it will take to show African cinema beyond Nollywood because there are other film industries taking shape, from Ghana to Liberia?
Djo: Nollywood has been successful in terms of its ability to respond to the need of African audiences to have their own imagery on screen. That was I believe, the moment when people dreamt of Africans in the scripts even if the stories were not good, at least it was some kind of their imagery, which if you compare to certain cinema, certain art house cinema for example, they are well directed but people just don’t follow. African cinema just didn’t have that then, it was like they failed to represent the people and so Nollywood was an answer, in order fill a void. At the same time, Nollywood is a reduced form of quality and in that sense that didn’t work and that’s why I think Viva Riva! did so well and to so many people, it was an answer in terms of telling an African story. It is telling a story with modern entertainment, quality and imagery. I think the film was answering to that.
Belinda: The film has created a new narrative about Kinshasa. are you now under pressure for your next film to deliver?
Djo: (Laughs) no, I feel more confident in terms of wanting to push further and I am more eager to do better and put more elements. But first I feel more pressure to raise the money and to be able to make the film. It is not because there is an interest that you do it. All the elements have to come together. I feel pressured to have all the elements together.
Belinda: Will the lack of funding will be an issue for your filmmakers who will see what you have done and want to emulate you?
Djo: Of course, it is terrible that African filmmakers have to go to western countries to find money. And that is a problem and a really big problem. And I hope that at some appoint, the government of the different African countries will be able to change the attitude to funding?
Belinda: Are you working on anything at present and when should we expect another film from you?
Djo: I am working on a Chinese/Congolese story, a gangster movie also set in Kinshasa and. It also a look at what is Africa today?
Viva Riva! is currently out on DVD