Viva Riva! The film noir made in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been making waves all over the world, both for its style - refreshing for a film coming from Africa - and because of its subject matter. Viva Riva! is the story of Riva (played splendidly by Congolese RnB star Pantsha Bay Mukuna) a small-time Kinshasa thief who arrives from Angola with a truckfull of stolen petrol and diesel, at a time when the city has no fuel. His partner and he decide to hold off sale of the fuel until prices rise even higher. Meanwhile, the Angolans he stole the fuel from are hot on his trail. Riva complicates matters even further by falling in love with a local gangster's girlfriend. The film opened in Gaborone last week, in the presence of its director Djo Tunda wa Munga. Mmegi Staff Writer GOTHATAONE MOENG spoke to him ahead of the Alliance Franaise-organised screening.
Mmegi: Viva Riva!, the first feature film you wrote and directed has been greatly acclaimed all over the world, and has won numerous awards including six African Movie Academy Awards. Where did the idea for the film come from?
Munga: After studying and working in Europe, I went back to the Congo around 1999 and 2000, looking for story ideas. I wanted a story that could talk about Kinshasa, my city. It was important for me to tell stories from Kinshasa. In 2000, 2001, we had a shortage of fuel in the city, which created a lot of tension. Then when I was travelling in the southwest of the country, close to the Angolan border, I met some smugglers. Just young guys who would go into Angola, smuggle some stuff and come back to Congo to sell it, then party hard and drink, and all of that stuff.
Mmegi: Were they Congolese?
Munga: Yeah, just young Congolese guys, who would smuggle stuff from Angola and then party like hell. I realised that is part of the Kinshasa mentality, and the story came from there.
Mmegi: Your film is the first feature to be filmed in the DRC in over 25 years. What would you say were some of the challenges of filming in a country that essentially has no film industry?
Munga: The thing about filming in Congo is that you expect that it's going to be difficult, so we were prepared for that. We were ready. The most difficult part of the whole process was actually convincing people, investors that a film could be made in Congo. You know people think of Congo as the heart of darkness, so they didn't believe that a movie could be made there. But once we got approval for funding, once we had convinced financiers that we were ready and prepared everything went well. The production process was smooth, we shot within our schedule, we didn't go over-budget.
Mmegi: You just mentioned that people think of Congo as the heart of darkness.
Munga: Oh yeah, they hear all these bad stories.
Mmegi: As a director of the first film coming out of there in over 25 years, did you feel any responsibility or pressure to tell the other story of Congo, to show that it's not necessarily the heart of darkness?
Munga: No. I felt responsibility for making a film that is as good as possible. It was interesting for me coming back to Kinshasa, I saw it in a different way. But no responsibility to clean up its image, or give it a positive image. I don't fight the bad image; I think it's a vain fight.
Mmegi: You talked about how difficult it was to get financing for the film. What impact does Western financing have on the actual story for an African filmmaker as yourself?
Munga: For me, the financiers that I found are movie lovers. Cinephiles, you could say. So they had respect for the story, and had respect for me as a director. I didn't have them telling me 'you can do this, you can't do that'.
Mmegi: The biggest challenge for African filmmakers is financing, especially looking at the way African governments prioritise their funding, with the arts always coming last, how would you say African filmmakers could deal with this?
Munga: Funding for films is always a struggle. It's a struggle for African filmmakers, Asian filmmakers, for all filmmakers. The idea is to be creative. You have to think that this is the 21st Century. You have to be creative in putting together a story, and to be creative in the way you look for funding. Some people, some developers have money, but they don't know how they can use it. It's up to you to convince them. It's really important to be creative.
Mmegi: How was Viva Riva! received in Congo?
Munga: Very, very warm response. People were proud to have a film that can talk about them. They owned the film.
Mmegi: Your film has also been one of a few independently made African films that will screen in 18 African countries. How did that happen?
Munga: We worked hard, very hard. I was talking about the 21st century and how we have to reinvent cinema. This is all a sign that it is possible; that is part of the reason I am here. Because it is important to engage with the people that are watching films, to talk to some people here, to explore what the market is like.
Mmegi: In what other African countries has it been screened?
Munga: It's going to show in South Africa, Johannesburg in particular, Kenya, here in Botswana, Uganda and Lesotho.
Mmegi: Do you have any plans for future collaborations with other African filmmakers?
Munga: Yeah, I would like to do that. I would like to produce younger filmmakers, to train younger directors. I would love to make a film in another African country. The thing is that we have a fantastic region, the SADC region. We have stories, we have some money, but we are not really using the stories that we have here.
Mmegi: You studied film in Belgium. Do you think there are any challenges of producing African stories using the Western or European film aesthetic that you studied at film school?
Munga: Well, I would say that a film school is international. We don't just study European, or Belgian storytelling. We study American, Asian filmmaking. A film school really tries to bring you all the best directors, so I didn't suffer.
Mmegi: Who are your personal influences in terms of directors or filmmakers in general?
Munga: Oh, there are so many of them. So many of them. For this movie, I would say I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa, the concept for his movie Stray Dog, which was part thriller, part documentary. As soon as I saw it, I knew that it was the best voice for Viva Riva!. But other influences include David Croneberg, the Canadian director. John Woo (too).
Mmegi: What is your next project?
Munga: I am working on a Chinese-Congolese production. About a Chinese detective who comes to Congo looking for gangsters.
Viva Riva! is 96 minutes long. It is in Lingala and French, with English subtitles. It was made for Û1.8 million (P17.6m million), with two-thirds of the crew being Congolese. Munga also revealed in a post-screening discussion with the audience that he spent a year training crew and actors ahead of the filming. Viva Riva! is currently showing at Capitol Cinemas, Game City. It is rated R for scenes containing brutal violence and sex.