Djo Munga • Director
Viva Riva!, children of Sergio Leone in Kinshasa
After causing a stir at Toronto, Viva Riva! [+see also:
film profile] arrived in Europe last week for its screening at the Berlin Film Festival. This sexy and vibrant thriller set in Kinshasa by night won over audiences full of Berliners and festival-goers keen to discover this highly original Congolese creation. Cineuropa met with the film’s director Djo Munga.
Cineuropa: Was it an obvious choice to film in the Congo?
Djo Munga: I finished my studies at the end of the 1990s at INSAS in Brussels. I could have made my first feature in Belgium, but I wanted and needed to film in the Congo. However, what was an obvious choice on a personal level was far from being so on a political and logistical level. The country was devastated by civil war and completely lacked any production infrastructures, and even human resources trained to oversee a film project. I therefore started to write and I quickly travelled across the country to size up the possibilities for shooting there. I wanted to show the Congo I knew, a modern and effervescent country, and avoid the temptation to hark back to the past, to a golden age rather stuck in time. Kinshasa had to be one of the film’s characters.
What are your influences?
I liked cinema before studying it, I liked mainstream films and action films. My first pleasures as a movie-goer came from these films. When I started to think about Viva Riva!, I asked myself what would serve my story best. I realised that it was by borrowing from the language of film noir that I could most accurately describe the Congo I wanted to talk about. Thrillers give you the opportunity to tackle social issues, whilst remaining within the realm of pure entertainment, by offering viewers an easy interpretation of the film. Giving the film a documentary look was one of my original aims. My imagination was fuelled by the films I saw when I was younger, from Hong Kong productions to Brian de Palma. During the shoot, my producer kept saying I was a child of Sergio Leone.
Was it a technical gamble shooting in Kinshasa?
Shooting in Kinshasa was a real challenge; we had to adapt to the territory and means at our disposal. For example, shooting in 35mm was out of the question for budgetary reasons, but also for logistical reasons. We were intending to shoot in digital, when we heard about D5. With the agreement of our DoP, we did some tests which turned out to be very successful. This changed the whole process from the filming to the colour-grading, and it didn’t necessarily prove easier, for the dot work was very complicated, but we obtained the very vivid and contrasting tones I was looking for.
How did you put together the film’s team?
I was keen to put together a mixed team. We started the preparatory work three years before shooting. We trained some young staff, about 15 people, who were willing to work with the 15 or so European project leaders we had already picked. The idea was also to have a structuring impact on the local audiovisual industry. The mainly non-professional cast also emerged from workshops organised with my casting director. We auditioned almost 400 actors and selected about 20, whom we trained in two sessions over two years.
In terms of financing, here we have a very modern economic model, propped up by three companies. My Congo-based company Suka enabled us to access “Southern” funding (Francophonie, ACP, Fonds Sud…), while France’s Formosa brought us Canal +, among others, and Belgium’s MG Productions enabled us to secure backing from the Belgian French Community. In terms of distribution, the screening at Toronto last autumn helped our seller to find outlets for North America and English-speaking countries. The selection here at Berlin should, I hope, bring new partners for the European market.
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