5 Questions for Filmmaker, Djo Munga

The Congolese cites the crime film, 'Carlito's Way,' starring Al Paciono, as a project he wished he had made. You can see the inspiration in "Viva Riva," his breakout film.

Patsha Bay in the title role in 'Viva Riva!'

Born in Kinshasa, Djo Tunda wa Munga left the Democratic Republic of Congo for Belgium at the age of nine. After completing his studies at the National Film School of Belgium, INSAS, he returned to Kinshasa where he worked as producer and assistant director for various international TV productions. In 2006, Djo established Suka! Productions – the first production company in the DR Congo.  In collaboration with South African producer Steven Markovitz, he produced the highly praised collaborative project Congo in Four Acts in 2010 and was named the African Trailblazer for MIPTV the same year.  His debut feature, Viva Riva! – also made in 2010! – was the first Congolese feature film production in twenty-three years. The film screened to much acclaim, at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival and has sold widely internationally (and can still be bought on iTunes). Djo Tunda wa Munga has since founded the first film school in DR Congo, “Les Ateliers Actions de Kinshasa,” which is currently in its fourth year of operations, and continues to shoot documentaries, a drama-series for TV and to write scripts.

What is your first film memory?

I remember the place but not a specific movie. We watched a lot of films in those days, in Kinshasa, mostly martial arts, and Godzilla (the 1970s Japanese version).

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I became a filmmaker by accident – my training is in Fine Arts. My brother suggested that I attend this 8 mm-workshop during a period of crisis in my life. I was worrying a lot about my work, creativity and the future. I felt dried out and didn’t know what to do. The workshop teacher Dominique Lohle, who was a filmmaker and a radical independent thinker, thought I ought to go to film school. I was not convinced, but he inspired me to give it a shot. I did and I got in, but it wasn’t until many years and many films later, that I had the confidence to tell myself that I actually wanted to be a filmmaker.

Which film do you wish you had made and why?

Carlito’s Way, for various reasons. It is a brilliant piece of art – a great thriller and a fantastic essay about the human condition, cruising beyond time and space. As a classical gangster movie, it is one of the finest of its genre. Usually we don’t see reflective and analytical gangsters on film. Even though Carlito is aware of the mistakes he has made in life, he is still unable to change. Like in real life. Al Pacino is great. Brian De Palma is at his best and Sean Penn is truly only one of a kind. The chase scene in the train is unbelievable. All these aspects combined, make me wish I had made the film.

Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.

Ugetsu monogatari by Kenji Mizoguchi. The film is a ghost story/period drama/fantastic love story and reflection on war. I like multilayered films that manage to capture various elements and aspects of existence. In his own way Mizoguchi was a great “social poet”. Ugetsu is certainly one of his finest achievement and pure poetry. The script, the style, the acting, the tone and the message – everything is coming together in a magnificent way.

Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.

How many films do you wish you had made?  That would be twenty: One every single year of my career. I believe directors should continue to film, again and again until we get to these moments where we perform to the best of our potential. Unfortunately it is becoming harder to make movies, and most of the time, it takes years between having finished one film and starting to shoot the next. It is not great in terms for us as craftsmen and women, but at the same time, we usually do not remember more than four or five defining films of any great director. So maybe it is not so much about the number but about reaching a stage of maturity.

Further Reading