Kunda Nlaba: Kimpa Vita a revolutionary that remains current
Ne Kunda Nlaba was born, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1982. He is a producer, director, actor and political scientist. He founded and manage Labson Bizizi-Cine Kongo Ltd, and Afrika Bizizi Distribution Ltd. Companies specialized in the production and distribution of films. A film graduate at the University of West London, he contributed to the production of several short, medium and feature films. The Next Panic: The Steel Pan (2010), Living Without Living (2011), Cherie Bondowe (2012), Abeti Masikini: The Fight of a Woman (2015), Kimpa Vita: The Mother of African Revolution, and Afro Beat dance (2016).
In an interview, he kindly granted to Flashmag he returns to one of the highlights of his filmmaking career, the documentary film Kimpa Vita the mother of the African Revolution.
Flashmag: Hello, Ne Kunda Nlaba, we are happy to have you as a guest of the page Cinepoint that hosted Raoul Peck last month. What brought you to filmmaking? was it something you always wanted to do?
Ne Kunda Nlaba: By the way, I have always loved cinema since my childhood and I saw myself one day, a filmmaker. But my career is a very long story that can be a book. I began to discover my artist's gift during elementary school through poems, and plays. At the age of 16, I did a bit of rap music, I joined the theater company "Heaven Boyz" in Kinshasa. And then I started in the direction by supervising the pupils of the primary school The Baraka school complex an elementary school I also attended, and where I started to play. I went through contemporary dance with Diba Dance, and later I created my theater company Virunga Theater, and my House of culture, Labson Cultur'arts, with which I organized two editions of the Festival Solo or Festival Mosi in Kinshasa, a festival of solo shows. Beyond that, I also did some radio and television. Then I decided to focus on my film career since 2007 in Kinshasa, creating my production company Labson Bizizi-Cine Kongo. In summary, my film career is a gift associated with my journey in different fields that the cinema brought together.
Flashmag: Your cinematographic work, if you had to define it on what ideology you place it? You consider yourself as what kind of filmmaker, a committed one, an artist or simply a chronicler of the time?
Ne Kunda Nlaba: Given my vision, I will say that I am initially an artist and a committed filmmaker. I think I have a mission in the field of image and as an artist I have a duty to educate the population through my works, promote our cultural heritage, and our history which is falsified, and Little known by us Africans and by the whole world.
Kimpa Vita is really the film that reveals you in the cinematographic sphere, it allows you to make several renowned festivals like Toronto, why did you think that it was necessary to make this documentary film?
Ne Kunda Nlaba: By the way, the choice to make this documentary comes first
from the historical need that we have now. We have experienced many events in our past, many great historical figures in Africa and Kongo that are not known, or are less well known, or may be known in bad versions or versions adulterated and told by Westerners or by the " oppressor. In addition, it was also the character of Mama Kimpa Vita who fascinated, me considering her contribution in history. At the time when the Kongo kingdom and Africa was invaded, destroyed, plundered, its daughters and sons enslaved, and slaughtered, to see a 20-year-old woman stand up and face the oppressor among so many Men, who where her contemporaries, is striking. It is also this courage not to give up, to be burned alive for the cause of her people. It must be admitted that it was not so easy, you must be a superior mind to dare. So, as a filmmaker, for me she deserves a tribute worthy of her name.
It was in 1706 that Kimpa Vita, then 22 years old, became a true heroine, who would mark the annals of the history of Africa. A poorly known African history that you try to tell the world. Was it difficult to retrace in your documentary film the life of this exceptional woman?
Ne Kunda Nlaba: Doing this kind of work on historical figure, from several centuries ago, and since we are faced with a problem of historical falsification, it is not that easy. By doing research already, we realize some divergences in the writings of Catholic missionaries, European historians and African historians / writers. On our part, we based our film mostly on the version of Negro African spiritual awakening movements, as the Vuvamu Center based in Kinshasa in the DR Congo, which does a great job restoring our history, and the version of Kongo people or historians and Kongo writers. One of the major difficulties is the lack of visual archives (photos / videos) as they did not exist in that time, apart from a few portraits left by Catholic missionaries of the time.
How did you make this film, and how long did it take you to make this film?
Kunda Nlaba: We started the project, the development and the pre-production in 2013 and we did the first interviews on the film, the same year to help us promote it. We continued and completed the production in 2015, and finished with the post-production in July 2016. The financial means did not allow us to do the work within the prescribed time, which is why there was also this lag. We did interviews in Paris, Milan, Kinshasa, Luanda and Mbanza Kongo, where we also shot a few reenactment scenes with the actors in the city. The documentary is a symbiosis of the narration, interviews of historical portraits, images we created especially for the film, images reconstructing some scenes from the story. We also composed 2 original songs for the film that will also be available online on ITunes.
With the new communication technologies, there is a certain renewed interest for the true African history. Without doubt, with this film you contributed to This cultural renewal however, if Art critics have been positive everywhere, how the public welcomed this film?
Kunda Nlaba: The audience welcomed the film very well, because it is something people have been expecting for several centuries. It must be said that it is even the first ever in the history of cinema. Through the documentary, the public has discovered things never heard anywhere, even those who know the history, agreed that they learned a lot of things and details. For Africans, today, it is a necessity. We have received standing ovations starting with the world premiere in Luanda on August 4th 2016, at the Brazil-Angola Cultural Center and on August 11th 2016 in Mbanza Kongo in Angola, in Paris on October 29th 2016 at Cinema le Brady, London on November 11th 2016 at the cinema Peckhamplex, in Brussels on December 2nd, at the cinema Aventure and so many others.
Christianity was introduced to the Kongo in 1484. In the history of Kimpa one realizes that the revolution that she leads from 1704 before perishing at the Burning stake in 1706, is inspired by the Christian culture because she is said to be the Messenger of Saint Anthony and she is the first to admit that God is not necessarily white, and that in heaven there are also black angels… how to understand this ambivalence, an African revolutionary who relies on the religion of the colonizer to carry out her fight?
In fact, the Catholic missionaries arrived in Kingdom Kongo in 1485 on the 2nd trip of the Portuguese Diego Cao, but Christianization will be effective from 03 May 1491 with the baptism of King Nzinga A Nkuwu, who agreed to be baptized and take the Portuguese name for Joa the 1st. And it was from this gesture of the king that the majority of the population in the kingdom was forced to convert to Christianity for fear of being killed, arrested, tortured for non-obedience. In addition, it is indeed this gesture that marks the beginning of the fall of the Kongo Kingdom and Africa, for the king has yielded his power, he has abandoned his spirituality and opted for imported religion. He Even abandoned he’s culture. It must be pointed out that before the arrival of the West in Africa in the 15th century, before the arrival of Christianity in Africa, our ancestors knew the existence of the father who created the earth, the sky and the universe; They were in communication with him and called him in our African languages Nzambi A Mpungu Tulendo, Akongo, Maweja Nangila, Nzakomba, Mungu, etc. And the struggle of Mama Kimpa Vita was to rehabilitate this African spirituality, reunify the kingdom Kongo and fight against slavery. Thus, her revolution is not inspired by Christianity but instead inspired by our Kongo ancestors, King Vita Nkanga, who was otherwise called by the Portuguese name Antonio the 1st. That is where comes the falsification of history. the struggle of Mama Kimpa Vita, was also called the movement of the Antonians by Westerners, because they were inspired by king Vita Nkanga - Antonio I (Anthony) and invoked his spirit. Vita Nkanga was a saint for the Kongo, and the missionaries went astray to say that it was Saint Anthony. In her message, Mama Kimpa Vita also wanted to clarify that God is not white, and that there are black angels too, so in the African spiritual world there is a Black God, there are black angels. I invite all of you to see the documentary to discover the rest.
Since the release of the film in 2015, what assessment do you make on its reception by the public in general?
Kunda Nlaba: I think the record is positive. As I said, the film is well received by the public, it is something we had been waiting for a long time. There were emotions of many colors, not to mention the tears of some spectators. Although Afrika Bizizi Distribution is a new distribution company, but we are struggling to meet the needs of the public even though there is a strong demand throughout the world, at the same time it justifies the size of the character and the film. It is this kind of story that the world expects today, unprecedented stories. We plan to do this project in three phases: documentary, fiction and animation.
In Congo and Africa today how the story of Kimpa Vita, can influence people in your opinion? Especially as it is known that Kimpa's revolution came at a time when the Congo was in the middle of a civil war, the Portuguese colonists having introduced political intrigues and wars between the various provinces of the empire, and the center of the federal state Mbanza Kongo?
Ne Kunda Nlaba: The story of Mama Kimpa Vita can influence all Africans, women and men in various areas of life. Mama Kimpa Vita is a model of courage, resistance and assumption of freedom. She teaches us to be proud of who we are, our skin color, our origins and our culture. In her time when there was no technology like today, she could gather more than 80.000 adherents in her movement. Indeed, what we are experiencing today, wars, the plunder of our wealth, began a while ago, this is also the fight of Mama Kimpa Vita, the protection of our wealth, patriotism and even the defense of Our countries.
For those who are interested in your film, can they find it in DVD how is the distribution?
The film is not yet available on DVD, we go step by step; We are currently in the process of indoor distribution and festivals then will follow TV, streaming and VOD and the DVD will be a final step. But we ask the public to wait a bit.
Speaking precisely of distribution, it is difficult to forge a path in this market, African films are virtually never programmed indoors, in the West and in sub Saharan Africa almost all movie theaters, have disappeared. How do you hope to palliate this lack?
Kunda Nlaba: it’s very pertinent question, it is even the reason for our distribution company Afrika Bizizi Distribution, which has this mission to campaign for the distribution of African films in Africa and in the world. We have a large Afro audience going to the cinema to see Hollywood movies, and it would be interesting to see the same audience, fills the rooms to see our films that we will put at their disposal. There is also a very large number of blacks who want to know our history, and this is a very good opportunity to be able to consume black and learn. Talking with our brothers and sisters, we realize many do not like going to movies, since they are not represented. Therefore, we do our part to bring the products that match them. It is up to the public now to take ownership, to motivate us to do more than that. In Africa, there is this absence of movie theaters, and that is why people do not have the habit of going to see movies in theaters. I think we need a whole distribution policy in Africa, first by putting films at their disposal, and educate them in consumption. It is a very broad and complex subject. We are working on this and hope to make a modest contribution to the development of our cinema. The documentary film Kimpa Vita, will be available in several regions, consume it massively. It will be screened at the International Pan-African Film Festival in Cannes, France on April 7, 2017, at the Afrikamera festival in Warsaw in Poland in May 2017 and in several festivals, that we will announce very soon.
As we are closing this talk, do you have a special word to the public?
Our message to the public is to thank those who already support us, and who are already consuming the film, and we are appealing to all to go massively watch this movie, which tells you of the hidden things. Let’s Consume African films, it is through your support that we will develop our cinema, we will provide you with more films, let’s give work to our brothers and sisters.
Ne Kunda Nlaba Flashmag and its readers say thank you for this interview ...
You are the ones to thank for this opportunity.
Read more at www.flashmag.net
Interview by Hubert Marlin Elingui Jr