Film Reviews

TIFF 2020: Downstream to Kinshasa Review

Dieudo Hamadi’s new film gives voice to survivors

Courtesy of TIFF


Downstream to Kinshasa
(Democratic Republic of Congo/France/Belgium, 88 min.)
Dir. Dieudo Hamadi

Dieudo Hamadi brings scars of national trauma to light in Downstream to Kinshasa. This sombre but reflective verité-style film gives voice to survivors of the Six-Day War, which ravaged the director’s hometown of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film continues Hamadi’s aptitude for capturing stories on levels both micro and macro. By following a small group of Kisanganians as they seek reparations from the government, Hamadi observes a nation’s ongoing struggle to heal its wounds.

Hamadi’s film offers enough information to contextualise the bloodshed that erupted in the conflict between Ugandan and Rwandan forces. The politics at the heart of the film, however, are not those that cause war, but rather the forces that ignore it. An early scene brings Hamadi to a mass graveyard where he and others walk atop the unmarked remains of residents who comprise some of the 1000 dead. 3000 more Kisanganians were injured in the massacre, and the film observes the long-term consequences of those wounds. In the fashion of Hamadi’s previous films like National Diploma and Kinshasa Makambo, Downstream to Kinshasa uses its observational power to give strength to his community. On the heels of those films, Downstream proves Hamadi a significant voice in humanist, activist filmmaking, as well as an emerging figure of note telling African stories from perspectives rooted in the communities from which they hail.

Downstream to Kinshasa focuses on the experiences of nine survivors: Modogo, Sola, Gédéon, Old Jean, Bozi, Mama Kawele, Mama Bahinga, Mama Kashinde, and President Lemalema. Hamadi observes their stories with an empathetic lens as they return to normal best they can, but struggle with the costs of maintaining prosthetics for their severed limbs, as well as the physical, emotional, and psychological pain they carry. Even walking down the uneven dirt roads poses a challenge with the wobbly crutches and tired prosthetics that carry them. Hamadi follows the survivors as individuals and as a collective to capture the day-to-day reality to which the government turns a blind eye.

The group has a therapeutic process in which they use theatre to release their pain. Notably stylized, the theatrical scenes demonstrates the group’s resilience and their refusal to be silent. This drama writes the script for their quest for reparations.

Hamadi follows the group as they venture to the capital to confront their elected leaders. The arduous journey underscores the lack of accessible supports. When they arrive at the capital, Hamadi observes further indifference as their pleas fall on deaf ears

On one hand, Downstream to Kinshasa is a road movie, but such journeys often define themselves by progress. Travellers in road movies usually begin in Point A and arrive in Point B. Despite being a circular quest, Downstream to Kinshasa affords a sense of progress. Their journey begins and ends in the same place, a point that Hamadi emphasizes by framing the narrative around a shot through the town’s dusty streets, but one witnesses pride in the stride of the survivors as they hold their heads high. Their voices, their suffering, and their resilience at least have some record to hold others to account.

Downstream to Kinshasa premiered at TIFF 2020.

Visit the POV TIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is POV’s Online Co-editor, etc. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Complex and ran the former blog Cinemablographer. He is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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