If the Cannes Festival had been held in 2020, Dieudo Hamadi would have been the first Congolese director in history to compete for an award with his last documentary Downstream To Kinshasa. Moonday draws his portrait.
FROM MEDICINE TO CINEMA...
After studying medicine, Dieudo Hamadi turned to documentary filmmaking. He graduated from the INSAS film school in Brussels and started working as an editor, producer, and assistant director on several projects. In 2010, he received the Pierre and Yolande Perrault grant at Cinéma du Réel for the film Dames en Attente, co-directed with Divita Wa Lusala. Since then, his work captures glimpses of contemporary Congolese life and catches the attention all around the world.
When Thom Powers, TIFF’s documentary programmer, ask him why documentary rather than medicine, he answers:
“At the beginning, it was just the desire to tell stories. 10 years later, my motivation has changed: I want to tell my country from the inside. Congo is a complex country, often told by others, but the Congolese must make their voice heard.”
CONGOLESE ISSUES, INTERNATIONAL CAREER
Dieudo Hamadi gives a voice to his country and allows his characters to bring special issues to light. His first feature-length, Atalaku (2011), for instance, is an immersive account of the 2011 Congolese presidential election campaign. National Diploma (2014), follows a group of students expelled from high school for not being able to pay their teachers’ fees. Mama Colonel (2017) documents the struggles of Colonel Honorine at the head of the child abuse and sexual harassment police in the Kisangani province. Kinshasa Makambo (2018) revolves around three young activists trying to bring about a change of regime through free elections...
All those films have known beautiful and long careers in film festivals: Cinéma du Réel, San Diego, FIDADOC, TIFF, AFI Docs, Viennale, Carthage, Namur, RIDM, Zurich… They all have warmly welcomed one or more of Dieudo Hamadi’s films and gave them the recognition they deserve.
If the Cannes Festival had been held in 2020, Dieudo Hamadi would have been the first Congolese director in history to compete for an award with his last documentary Downstream To Kinshasa.
Of course, Dieudo Hamadi’s films are political. However, the director does not define himself as committed:
"The Congo is so politicized that it is not possible to put the camera down without capturing politics. From the moment I decide to film a reality, to film people in real life, it is impossible to escape politics." (TV5 Monde)
DOWNSTREAM TO KINSHASA
More recently, Dieudo Hamadi directed Downstream to Kinshasa. A powerful and heartbreaking documentary following survivors of the Six-Day War, fighting in Kisangani for the recognition of this bloody conflict and demanding compensation. Tired of unsuccessful pleas, the group has finally decided to voice their claims in Kinshasa, after a long journey on the Congo River.
Dieudo Hamadi, himself a native of Kisangani, lived through the Six-Day War at the age of 15. This painful past emerges in this documentary in a universal call for an effort to remember. The memory of this war is difficult, not only because of the authorities remaining still but also because of the silence of the Congolese people. Dieudo Hamadi explains to an interview allowed to the TIFF :
“The Congolese had forgotten a bit about this war, including myself. I was a little ashamed to have forgotten this part of our history and the people who continue to suffer from it today.
We erased these atrocities from our memory because it is the only way to move forward. Collectively, the Congolese tend to forget what happened to them. But there are consequences: the more we forget, the more we give ourselves the chance that it will happen again and again.”
The main theme of the documentary is finally the journey. A symbolic journey into the past, obviously, through the testimonies and the duty to remember. But also a very real journey, in the boat linking Kisangani to Kinshasa. A crossing of the river full of unforeseen events that underlines the powerlessness of the protagonists, but also their incredible desire to live and their need for justice.
The documentary won the Gilda de Vieira Mello Prize at the FIFDH (International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights) in Geneva, in March 2020, awarded by a jury chaired by Oleg Sentsov.
WHAT’S NEXT ?
After 5 feature-length documentaries, Dieudo Hamadi would like to approach Congo and his History from a different angle: fiction. He worked on a Tv series and is preparing his first feature film.
Do you want to know more about Dieudo Hamadi's future projects?