Dir.: Dieudo Hamadi; Documentary; Democratic Republic of Congo Belgium France, 90 min.
Twenty years ago a violent civil war raged in the Congo and was fought out between Rwandan and Ugandan forces, who supported the two Democratic Republic’s factions. Over four thousand Congolese lost their lives in Kisangani alone in a war that ignited in June 2000 and became to be known as the Six-Day war.
Acting as his own DoP, experienced documentarian Hamadi zeros in on the domestic detail and the wider issues arising from class structure which leaves a particularly brutal legacy in this post-colonial world. This is a place where life-changing injuries still haunt the victims: double amputees like Mama Kawale and Mama Bahingi, and quadriplegic Mama Kashinde have managed to make their days bearable by playing wheelchair basketball. The atmosphere is intense, and every shot at the basket counts: this is no feeling of competition except with themselves, and their individual scores bolster self-confidence.
Hamadi is familiar with the territory having grown up during the massacre. The victims of Kisangani’s war were thrown naked into mass graves, as one of the survivors recalls: “we are walking on corpses”. The survivors have clamoured for nearly twenty years for compensation from the Central government – in vain. Their plight and pain is never diminished, in fact it gets worse, and club together to select a delegation to travel downstream on the Congo river to the capital Kinsasha, where they will demand justice from government officials and their MP.
Intercut with the documentary are scenes from the Agit-Prop theatre of the survivors, which uses music and short scenes to bring home their message. Two simple boats are hitched together, and the delegation team buys food for the journey from vendors on little boats. Arriving in Kinshasa, the positive carnival atmosphere of the journey changes into disappointment when delegation is banned from accessing the government building. Their local MP is not there to engage with their concerns because of the approaching election. So they are put their time to good use raising awareness of their plight with brightly coloured banners – spelling mistakes corrected – before installing themselves in peaceful protest only to be drenched by torrential rain. It’s a pitiful sight, and we feel for them. Eventually they will have something to cheer about when the unsupportive president of the Republic, Joseph Kabila, is replaced by Felix Tshisekedi in the 2018 December elections. But Kabila leaves a legacy, allowing him to select the incumbent Prime Minster. In an elliptical ending, we return to the lively streets of Kisangani, with the delegation walking proudly with their heads high.
Downstream could be called a Road-Movie but that seems too trite a description for this pilgrimage of humanitarian relief and Hamadi reflects this in his poetic and lyrical visual treatment. Eschewing a sentimental approach as all times, Hamadi never victimises the survivors, but triumphs in their fighting spirit kept alive by their exuberant theatre work and their courageous journey to the capital. AS