(Translated from English by Google Gtranslate)
The «Six Day War» most people know spanned 5-10 June 1967 and saw Israel defeating Arab neighbours Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Exactly 33 years later, between the same June dates, another «Six Day War» was fought. It made much less of a global impact, but locally the wounds cut very deep, and have lingered long. Part of the Second Congo War of 1998-2003 – a clash over central African mineral – wealth whose cumulative death-toll ran into the millions — the Guerre des Six Jours concerned Rwandan and Uganda but took place elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), specifically its third-biggest city, Kisangani (population c.1.5m).
The Battle of Kisangani
4,000 were killed and 3,000 injured in the ‘Battle of Kisangani,’ many of the latter suffering limb-amputation. The survivors’ protracted struggle to obtain compensation is the subject of Dieudo Hamadi’s fifth feature-length documentary Downstream To Kinshasa. The 88-minute film’s more poetic Francophone title En route pour le millard translates as «on the road to the billion,» referring to the billion-dollar payout sought by the Kisinangi people as compensation to damaged individuals, part of a larger $10bn request.
Frustrated at governmental apathy, more than 100 people set out on a boat from Kisangani in 2018 to make their case in DRC capital Kinshasa — over 2,300km (1,430 miles) down the mighty Congo River. Also along for the journey was another son of the city, Hamadi, who via his documentaries has crafted an invaluable kaleidoscope of the complex and thorny issues facing his vast country. Still only 38, Hamadi has thus emerged as one of the most important filmmakers in Africa – and therefore the world.
The continent’s second-biggest country both in size (behind Algeria) and population (behind Nigeria), the DRC has featured regularly in worldwide headlines – usually for negative reasons – since it obtained independence from Belgium in 1971 as Zaire (the 19th-century colonial horrors suffered by the resource-rich country are recounted in devastating fashion by Joseph Conrad in his classic 1899 novella Heart of Darkness).
Democracy came very late to Zaire/Congo, following the ousting of US-supported «strongman» president Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after 26 years of repression. Given the upheavals and civil wars that have racked the DRC, it’s perhaps no surprise that its cinema industry has been so low-profile – especially compared with Nigeria’s fecund Nollywood. One notable exception was Lumumba, the Death of a Prophet, a 1991 documentary on the ill-fated «father of the nation» Patrice Lumumba by acclaimed Zaire-raised Haitian director Raoul Peck.
Nearly three decades years later, Downstream To Kinshasa became the first Congolese film to be selected for the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival – which, of course, was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A multi-layered work that combines reportage-style coverage of the epic journey with musical-theatre interludes in which the survivors use artistic methods to deal with their plight, Downstream To Kinshasa is a sensitive and evidently heartfelt paean to persistence. Although he never appears on-screen, preferring a «fly on the wall» approach, Hamadi’s empathetic connection to the subject matter and the documentary’s articulate, persuasive and engaging protagonists is evident throughout.
Democracy came very late to Zaire/Congo, following the ousting of US-supported «strongman» president Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after 26 years of repression.
«This terrible war has been almost forgotten today,» he said in an interview with Variety, «and we run the risk of seeing these atrocities happen again at any time. A work of memory became absolutely necessary.» Not that the memories in Kisingani are likely to fade any time soon: among several moving sequences is a visit to a mass grave in the city, in which more than a thousand corpses were hurriedly interred. This segment is followed by the embarkation onto the Congo, which provides -over the course of half an hour – the most striking material in the whole film.
Hamadi deploys a drone camera to depict the heavily-laden craft’s slow progress down the vast brown-grey lake-like river, then takes us right in among the people as they bicker, sing, eat, complain («I won’t eat shit! I have a right to say it! The food is no good»), and learn to bump along in decidedly close quarters. The bonds of community are, we see, reaffirmed and strengthened by this collective activity, providing fresh memories to reduce the pain of those which have lingered so horribly since the 2000 atrocities. As the winds rise to gale strength, rain lashes down mercilessly and flimsy flapping tarpaulins provide scant cover from the surging elements. We genuinely fear the worst for all concerned, especially when we hear that the boat has been «holed.»
Having presumably ceased filming on the basis of safety, Hamadi then cuts abruptly to a point after what was presumably a safe arrival in Kinshasa – a hectic metropolis by any measure, but a relative haven of calm following the torrid extremities of the river. The aggrieved citizens use the national media to state their case, and while governmental responses are frustratingly stony (shades of England’s frostily-received Jarrow Marchers of 1936), some measure of optimism is found in the results of the December 2018 general election – greeted with joyous celebration by Hamadi’s townsfolk. The film concludes, however, on an ominously quiet note: eight campaigners standing across the street from Kinshasa’s Presidential Palace, hoping their mute presence, and that of Hamadi’s camera, will spur new incumbent Félix Tshisekedi into belated action. The battle continues
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