Munga – on AFRICA AND ASIA and FRENCH NEW WAVE
Maria Mcloy asked me to do something with the director of viva riva, djo munga so i did, except, what i emailed her, 2 weeks after the sit down was totally off brief, on purpose, sort of kind of. not being interested in the very much hyped film he was on a world tour promote, made me more interested in the mind behind it.
Djo and i sat down at tashes rosebank johannesburg, he answered my questions, wavering quite erratically between impatient and intrigued while i sipped on my caffe.
DIDACTICS VS ENTERTAINMENT:
Entertainment is a kind of strategy. We are at a time where we need to address our masses, African masses, in a way what they can get to talk about film. I often compare myself to the American directors in the 30s and 40s. They were manly European, coming to America, running away from the Nazi’s and so they created the most entertaining cinema: gangster movies, westerns, love stories, whatever but they had to do; also to express some really really complex ideas about society and politics in various ways. I think we [Africa] are getting close to that - in that sense entertainment is a way to talk to people.
CINEMA, FRANCOPHONE FILM CULTURE AND ‘THE GREATS’:
They say that the French francophone have this fantastic work and see you how fantastic we are but I’m not that impressed. I was more exposed to international culture. There were different influences. And in that sense I watched a lot of American movies but I didn’t know that there were great directors. I didn’t know that there was Copolla, Brian de Palmer and all these guys. It was only later when I was in film school that I got it.
THE FRENCHIE IN THE MUNGA:
I’m not really a perfect model of the French culture and influence, because I have a strong resistance to that. People that I find very strong in the French culture, the French themselves don’t really appreciate them the same, and for example I think the biggest filmmaker Jean Renoir. Jean Renoir is ultimately the biggest French filmmaker, his vision, his work but when in comparison François Truffaut? He’s a good director but his not at the same level as Renoir.
FRENCH CULTURE AS A CHAMPION FOR STORIES LIKE VIVA RIVA:
The only thing I could say is, in the French culture it’s very important to have a culture, it’s very important to embrace many films and many filmmakers. On that level they are fantastic. In fact when I was in a French speaking world had access to a library and access to films for nothing even though I was poor and didn’t came from a rich background. The emphasis on culture, in fact that the moment for like a film, like my film which is heavily funded by France and a French partner, is recognized and people see the potential of the story and the culture is something you don’t have in English speaking countries where its all towards business. It’s like there is no sense of history of cinema…English speaking countries lack a sense of culture.
AUDIENCE AUDIENCE AUDIENCE:
I think that the audiences that I have in mind were Cinefiles - people like me who enjoy film, who’ve watched a lot of film, and recognize the things we I need to change, to visually stimulate a core audience. My first Cinefiles that I meet were Congolese… these people enjoy film and they still do today but it’s not official, you know. In Europe the Cinefiles are official they’ve seen all these films. I would say it was more a chaotic process in Africa. So I think about Cinefiles first. I focus on how to make a good story, good writing, and good script writing.
WRITING, PROCESS, SHAKESPEARE AND HIMES:
I also think about great authors. Shakespeare someone who’s important to me. Chester Himes
is someone important to me - all these guys. So I’m thinking about them, I’m thinking about structure, how they make their story, how they create their characters and how the general film looks like, all these things are important. And then ‘in’ the process I don’t really think too much about the result, I really try and focus on how to make the best film possible - within its own content. The balance between content and form is really a permanent question.
MUNGA IS FIRST, A…
I consider myself first a scriptwriter and a director. The production part is only straining because of the money. So anywhere at some point the limits will come. First I will expose what I want to talk about and then challenge the limits.
ARTISTIC FREEDOM AFTER FAME
Freedom…[long pause] it depends. It’s funny because have developed four feature films and stories, actually I’ve developed five, one just after I develop after my film [Viva Riva] was released. It was kind of different, interesting but very different. But my producer and associates, said ‘Djo you’ve done this gangster movie, and now you are going into this [other] genre, it doesn’t work, you need make two, three more gangster movies and then you’ll see.’ Even at this stage you already feel the constraints and the pressure in keeping in the moment. So it’s all about negotiation. Okay, how am I going to keep my career? I’m not eager to go into going into big films just because of the money because it bring problems and I want to keep a certain artistic level and control. And so I try to keep a balance between good films and smaller films but [there] needs to be some importance in terms of content.
THE ONLY BLACK IN THE ROOM
When I was in film school for example, which was really Nouvelle Vague orientated I had a really really strong resistance – I felt that I suffered lot you know. You are the only black person in a white environment - the only black, once again. There is one black in every 75 years in that film school. When you are the only black person in the middle of a culture where the emphasis is on something that you don’t like, doesn’t look like you and you don’t have any relation to it. It creates a great sense of isolation.
ASIANS AND AFRICANS BOUND BY CULTURE and AESTHETICS:
I came across these Japanese niche filmmakers and I felt at home, you know - in terms of the relation to Africa. They also have a sort of conservative society, like ours. But at the same time, they are artistically so fantastic and so vibrant. In terms of filmmaking there are at a really high level. They’re higher than some European work that I’ve come across. So all these elements have created my affinity for filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi especially. They’re fantastic and will always inspire me. They help me to focus on ‘how am I going to address issues about conservative society in a modern way’.
AFRICA AND ASIA and FRENCH NEW WAVE:
…One thing certain is that we are not westerners. Which creates, in it’s own way a bind. Also in the western filmmaking and artistic process the community is not the centre of the films anymore. The characters linked to that community are not as important in western film as it is in our community, or in certain Japanese film of a certain era. I mean the big classic masters Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and the third one is Yasujirō Ozu - the three big masters of Japanese cinema of a certain era….In western film the trends are different. It’s more about the individuals and how centred you are. The problem with Nouvelle Vague was that there was always the vision of the self, a self-indulgence that didn’t speak to me and still doesn’t actually. But I can now understand why this movement [Nouvelle Vague] came out at that moment in France and why it’s important for that vision and I respect that. I see it as refreshment to the old heavy French system, which was kind of like really heavy in terms of the content - the old France. It brought the camera to the streets.
ON BEING HERALDED AS THE MESSIAH OF CONGOLESE FILM:
I’m happy to contribute to, kind of like, a restart of something you know. I’ve been able to study abroad and I’ve been able to have an education in film, my compatriots many of them didn’t have the opportunity. So to share that knowledge is like the gift of life. That you can share with people is fantastic, a gift you can give to people but one you can also give yourself. So I made this project, which was a successful, a documentary that went to more than forty festivals and now Viva Riva. We have invited and facilitated some productions in Congo, before they were maybe afraid, and there are more to come. I’m just blessed that finally it’s going though me… So it’s just me. It could have been somebody else!
CROSS BORDER AFRICAN FILM CULTURE
I just want to do more actually, and want to be regional and I also want to develop products like other countries. What I have learnt is that if you limit yourself to your own country when it comes to Africa it’s a mistake, because you don’t have enough strength or human resources in one country. We really need to be united. If there is a lesion to be learnt it is that we need to work together. Its not easy, its not easy at all. But we need to work together and carry a kind of community in our work, and create a working system, bring it back to life again, by just inviting creators to come to Congo, we need those exchanges. Western countries do that, that’s why they are so strong. British directors go to America, a French writer writing for an American project or a Finnish working in France, that’s the strength. Its not just money, it’s the mind!
THE WOMEN OF VIVA RIVA:
Well I wanted to talk about the different aspects of a woman in Congo today. You have the femme fatal who is beautiful, with some wealth around her, but who is also prisoner of her condition. This commander who tries to be a regular person who at some point is trapped into this machine that she can’t even control. Another character only sees her hope is escape. And what all these women have in common is that they are trapped and we as in society. We are all trapped but for women it’s stronger.
Women are very powerful in Congo. I mean if women were not the way there are the country would be completely down. What is left of Congo is because women. They find solutions; they create and are the driving force. So I wanted to have that level of story even if it’s a male story, male story driven but there is also a female standing there.
“NOTHING GOOD COMES OUT OF POVERTY” DJO MUNGA – DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT:
Yes… Poverty is a place where you feel miserable, you feel threatened, you have to survive, you have to push people around and you have to fight. This survival mode makes you generate inside of you all the tensions and all the negative aspects because you are insecure. You are driven by fear and that’s not good. We often talk about all the guys that come from the ghetto. The ghetto gives you some strength in your personality as it fixes your personality, but at what cost? What’s the price of that? If you’re not in the ghetto maybe you will be much stronger and all your strength will be at ease and you can express more and achieve more. Also to stay in the ghetto in the misery can destroy you. It’s good when you stay for a short period of time you can overcome it.
ON WHAT PEOPLE ARE NOT ASKING HIM:
(Laughing) Nobody talk about the four women in the film. Also I think maybe what people never ask me is ‘how I feel.’ (Laughing) With all this movement and all this success… well I feel just grateful to everything and everybody. I have received so many messages from Congolese but also other Africans and all over the world that have seen the film, and they’ve seen the trailer or have heard about it, they are so proud. It gives you a certain sense of achievement inside and it’s beyond success.
-Djo Munga is the famed Congolese director of Africa’s most hyped film Viva Riva – The film opens in South Africa on the 5th of October nationwide.