October 17, 2005

Two good documentaries

Amazingly, for somebody who never watches movies, I saw two good documentaries this weekend. Both of them are from Thierry Michel. I saw one of them during a special screening in Kinshasa (who knew that there was a screening room in Congo?) during which Thierry introduced his work. The captain of the ship of one of the documentary was also there at the screening.

I suddenly realized that I had been introduced to Mr. Michel's work before: I saw the shocking "Donka Hospital" during my International Public Health class and sat watching images of a disfunctional hospital in Africa--I didn't know hospitals could be that bad. The ones I see here are far worse.

"Mobutu, Roi du Zaïre"
What happens when Congo fights for its independence, only to have the Belgian government withdraw quickly in 1960, leaving very few skilled and qualified Congolese to lead to country?
A kleptocracy, stupid!
The documentary shows the mind-bogglingly fast rise of Mobutu, from officer in the Belgian army, to journalist invited to the World Fair in Belgium, to General of the Congolese army, to 'President for Life' of the newly renamed Zaïre.
How can someone rise so quickly you ask?
Through cunning and violence. Like the leopard he liked to wear as a hat, Mobutu was sly--associating himself with the highests in command; and carnal--killing without pity those who were in his way. Increasingly megalomaniac, Mobutu built one lavish palace after another, throwing glorious parties in his name. Backed by his unpaid soldiers, the army enforced his rule while serving themselves to the country's riches. Refusing to see the country declining into terror and utter poverty, the 'King of Zaïre' became increasingly frail, paranoid and two-timing.
Seeing him cry on camera though, you almost feel sorry for how deluded this man is. Great interviews by foreign journalists, his Congolese ministers and his son-in-law.

"Congo River"
This second documentary follows a barge and its captain through the easy stretch of the Congo River, carrying almost a small village worth of people and their barnyard animals. Beyond that, waterfalls make the passage inaccessible.
As the barge stops in villages at night and during the day (through endless administrative fees--the only system remaining intact from the Colonial period, ha!), we hear villagers recount the days of colonialism and Mobutu. We see another barge stuck in sandbank for three months and sigh with relief as our barge continues safe and sound. We meet old intellectuals stuck in the middle of the country contemplating the infrastructure abandoned: abandonned train tracks from the Belgian period, electricity towers built 25 years ago with the promise of electricity (the village leader says with a hint of malice "we've been told it's coming soon"), a beautiful botanist university and its lone remaining professor with 55,000 samples of plants and birds decaying and gathering dust, a great crumbling palace belonging to Mobutu ("this reminds me of the arrogance of the man while his people were starving" says a village man) and a poor local hospital performing gynecological surgeries on raped women in the East.
Thierry Michel manages to score a great interview with the Chief Mahi Mahi, whose crazy speeches are laughable and scary at the same time.


Black River Eagle said...

Excellent! I guess I will have to keep searching online for trailers of these two films as I do not expect to see Michel's work anytime soon at the local Cinemax or any of the art film theatres.

A screening room for foreign films in Kinshasa? I'm impressed. It must have been cool to meet the captain of the riverboat featured in "Congo River". In the film were they sailing downriver into the Bas Congo region or upriver toward Kisangani? What was Thierry Michel like in the introduction?

I was just teasing about your Mobutu post being political, but I think that Beaver and you know that. It's good to hear that the new Franc Congolaise notes have images of life in the Congo vs. a likeness of the King. The new hydroelectric power dam is coming soon I hear, honest. 1st the dam(s), then the national electric grid, then a national fiber optic and copper telecoms network, and so on...

007 in Africa said...

Please do check them out, they are fascinating images of the country. I was awesome seeing the captain--he had accelerated his usual sailing time by boat to get to Kinshasa on time--poor dude was exhausted poor dude. But he got a nice, warm round of applause. Thierry Michel is very well spoken and hires local talent so great person all around...but I suspect that he is a little biased in the interest of sensationalism. Although all the things he talks about are not far from the mark at all. I think that they were travelling from Kisangani towards the source.

As for infrastructure and the like--I was thinking that the order should be the following: payment of salaries, building of roads, installation of water pipes, then maybe we can go ahead with the damn, electric grid etc.

Black River Eagle said...

Thanks for the feedback, I'll keep a lookout for Michel's films.

Good suggestions re: the rebuilding of infrastructure in the DRC. Pay the government and civil administration workers what they are owed, put good qualified people into positions where they can get things done properly, get rid of the riff-raff and crooks and militias and despots, then get everybody in the Congo busy working shoulder-to-shoulder to rebuild the nation from scratch.

Carl said...

My vote is
1st roads
2nd one good, reliable infantry
3rd an effective constabulary
(they should put spell check
on the comment part too,
especially in the rural areas

Carl said...

let me do that again.

My vote is

1st roads

2nd one good, reliable infantry brigade

3rd an effective constabulary (they should have spell check available for comments too), especially in the rural areas.

Steve in Wisconsin said...

Yo, Double "O" - Have you seen Raoul Peck's film "Lumumba"? A very good look at Patrice - the individual as well as the politician. It's a fairly recent production - an HBO documentary.

007 in Africa said...

Thanks for all the planning for the rebuilding of the country folks. I'll be sure to hire you as my personnal consultants when the time for my to become president comes :)

I would love to watch the film about "Lumumba" for 2 reasons: 1) he seems to be a national hero around here, 2) his persona is not explored at all in the documentary nor in the book I am reading about Congo. But he seems a fascinating personality.

Black River Eagle said...

There you go getting political again. President!? Time for vacation 007.

Yo Steve. Thanks for the tip on the HBO film about Patrice Lumumba. What is HBO? ...:-)

Patrice Lumumba is a big folk hero not only to the Congolese but to Africans far and wide. A sort of Malcom X-style folk hero. Too bad that he got whacked, but political assasinations were big back in the 1960's (remember JFK?). For years the "Word on the Street" has been that the CIA was somehow involved with his death but I can't believe that the Feds would do something like that, would they? Ammo, do the French or Belgians know something about this unfortunate incident that we don't know? Non?

There is a copy of former P.M. Lumumba's Independence Day speech on June 30th, 1960 for anyone who might be interested at: http://members.lycos.nl/pol/toespraaklum.htm

After reading this speech one can imagine that Patrice Lumumba had great hopes and vision for the Congo and her peoples. That was reason enough for those who had other plans for the Congo to kill him.

pps said...

Does anyone know where I can find Congo River on DVD? I saw this documentary some time ago and have been looking for a copy of it recently.

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