DR Congo is a complicated space. Many things that we perceive not to know just as we begin to know a few of them: history, political settings, mining industries, music, cinema, arts – produced by the many people who do extraordinary work in this huge country. One of them is Kiripi Katembo who we painfully lost at the point in time of his international emergence. His series of photographs entitled Transit – RDC1 generated a rather generous view towards the Congolese cosmos, which too often seems depicted as a place of deprivation. Deprivation is present in Katembo’s images, but it is not its leading tone. His frame of reality rather has depth and levitation.
Kiripi Katembo was the producer of Maman Colonelle 2, a documentary by his friend Dieudo Hamadi. Both were born during Mobutu’s dictatorship and experienced the ‘African World War’. Desolation is not Hamadi’s or Katembo’s thing, although the cinematic space of Maman Colonelle could not be more nightmarish. They found an accomplice in Colonel Honorine Munyole – one of these exceptional people who would not dare to despair. She is the main character, the star in this documentary film named after her.
In real life, people call each other Maman, Papa, Child, my Elder, even if they are not family. As a gesture of humanity, respect, and acknowledgement of age and position, intensifying the bond between people and the impact of violence. Maman is a widow, and a police officer. She has many children, some of her own and some adopted. She is the head of a police unit established to protect women and children from war crimes, abuse and rape in Bukavu – the province of South-Kivu, close to the Rwandan border – and is later transferred to Kisangani, province of Tshopo, DRC. Kisangani was an inferno in the war between Rwanda and DRC – drowned in atrocities, then isolation, silence, and invisibility. Violence continues. It is somehow a miracle that the Unité de la Police Spéciale chargée de la Protection de la Femme et de l’Enfant (PSPFE) has been brought into existence with a personality like Honorine Munyole (another Sister in Law3) in charge of it, that the film has been accomplished, and been brought to cinema.
The camera is around while she raises awareness and funds, prepares female victims to testify before court, finds them a place to stay, and a job to make a living; she brings them traumatized children to care for, and she trains police officers (mostly men) to be trim and vigilant. As much as Maman cares for practical solutions – leaving the site when it comes to overwhelming emotions –, the film is concerned with not turning the camera’s lens into a voyeuristic eye, but not turning it away either. Not only does it become necessary to produce a film as a testimonial, but also to understand its impact as a statement.
Siegfried Kracauer in The Head of the Medusa 4 slightly reconceptualizes the myth of Perseus’ victory over Medusa. In his version, the film would enable its spectators to look at horrific things and not be petrified (as Perseus was looking at Medusa’s reflection in the mirror of his shield, and not at her) in order to acknowledge and become aware of how to “decapitate horror” (das Grauen köpfen).
In cinema, the image of horror (Kracauer had the Nazi Concentration Camps in mind)
does harm, but not directly and physically. Cinema configures a space where one could engage with a reality that one would never be able to cope with directly. Maman Colonelle, while keeping the balance between “rememberment and redress”5 (Fred Moten), finds its way back and forth into and out of the Kracauerian utopian dimension of cinema and its promise of acknowledgement, starting with the presence of a camera that produces images that contain a possible link to an exterior world.
1 Kiripi Katembo, Transit – RDC (Brussels: Africalia and Oostkamp: Stichting Kunstboek, 2015).
2 Maman Colonelle (2017, 72 min, DR Congo/France); written, directed and photographed by Dieudo Hamadi. Sound by Dieudo Hamadi and François Tariq Sardi; edited by Anne Renardet; produced by Kiripi Katembo (Mutotu Productions, Kinshasa) and Christian Lelong (Cinédoc Film, Annecy). Lingala, Swahili, French and other languages.
3 Sisters in Law: Stories from a Cameroon Court (2005, 104 min, Cameroon); directed by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto; starring Vera Ngassa and Beatrice Ntuba, two Cameroonian lawyers seeking justice for women and children.
4 In Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960).
5 Fred Moten, In the Break – The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).