When the audience at the New York Angelika Theater burst into applause for the third time during Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s film “Viva Riva!” it underscored that the Congolese production was a big success.
The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and opened in New York earlier this month. The film also took home six trophies at the 2011 African Movie Awards, including best film and best director.
“In making “Viva Riva!,” I wanted to find a new way to talk about life in Kinshasa today to describe how my hometown works and how it doesn’t work,” wrote Munga in his director’s comments. “I also felt the time was right to depict aspects of life in the capital that everyone knows exist but no one has ever talked about publicly.”
Those “aspects” include theft, sex, poverty, greed, gangs, violence and murder. The film also addresses resource shortages through the story of Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna), who steals and sells off a truckload of gas in fuel-deprived Kinshasa. Power outages take place throughout the film.
In some ways the movie is like a typical Hollywood crime thriller. In this story the “hero” steals, becomes overly confident, parties hard, and falls in love with Nora (Manie Malone), a gangster’s wife, all the while being chased by his former boss. Like a good crime flick it’s action-packed. But the music and the script, which is in French and Lingala (the native language of Kinshasa) but screened with English subtitles, create a uniquely African feel. “Viva Riva!” is also revolutionary because it’s the first movie shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 25 years.
“Our work on ‘Viva Riva!’ was resolutely modern,” Munga wrote. “The film dives into its depiction of tough situations so forthrightly that we hope it will help sweep away some of the old school perception of Africa and African art.”
The movie shows that filmmaking is alive in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that the country holds great possibility. Despite the raw and sometimes gruesome picture Munga paints with “Viva Riva!” what he wanted most of all was for the movie to show young Congolese that they can craft their own futures and that their country can make it as a society.
“Over the past twenty years, Kinshasans have lived in bedlam, through every kind of spiritcrushing experience imaginable — war, crime, corruption, food and energy shortages, poverty and the breakup of the family structure,” said Munga, “yet their clocks still keep on ticking, and life goes on.”