Review: ‘Kinshasa Makambo’

Hot Docs 2018

2 mins read

Kinshasa Makambo
(France, 75 min.)
Dir: Dieudo Hamadi
Programme: World Showcase


Many are the films offering street-level views of the spate of protests that have swept the globe since Occupy and the Arab Spring: The Square, Winter on Fire, Whose Streets?, etc. Add Kinshasa Makambo to that list. The film is about the movement to depose Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has refused to hold elections after serving two terms.

As with most contemporary documentaries of this kind, Kinshasa Makambo is not didactic; rather, it’s an immersion in a grassroots movement and the lives and perspectives of a few individuals, with the political situation becoming clear tangentially at key moments.

The film follows a group of civilian activists, headed by the charismatic Ben, who has just returned from exile in the USA, and the idealistic Jean-Marie, who has just been released from prison. They meet in concrete buildings and out on the street, discussing tactics, making speeches quoting Patrice Lumumba, making improvised gas masks out of water bottles and butter.

Gradually, another group comes into focus as well: the UDPS, a political party centred around the veteran freedom fighter and former political prisoner Étienne Tshisekedi. The two groups have significant differences, but work together as best they can through a certain degree of mutual mistrust.

Hamadi, whose previous films have exposed elements of the Congolese police and education systems, clearly knows the politics, and is also a friend of the grassroots activists. He’s sympathetic as they organize massive protests, but is also increasingly hopeless when things fail to come together as planned. (Uh, spoiler alert… as of this writing, Kabila is still in power.) By the end, as the group’s tactics grow increasingly naïve and desperate and the members turn on each other, the film becomes a tragicomedy of powerlessness in the face of entrenched corruption.

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