The name Democratic Republic of the Congo indicates the African countries included within the Zaire river basin; this area was divided in the years 1880-1885 between France and Belgium. The two former colonies, independent since 1960, have both changed their official name several times, which is currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the former Belgian and the Republic of Congo for the former French.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Compared to other African films, that of Democratic Republic of the Congo (called the Republic of Zaire in the period 1971-1997) has had a unique history, due to the considerable production of the missionary fathers, between 1945 and 1960, during the last years of colonial domination. They were the pioneers of the dissemination of an educational cinema, intended for the indigenous population, and aimed at religious propaganda. In fact, in 1946 the Office catholique international du cinéma (OCIC, based in Belgium) had created the Center congolais d’action catholique cinématografique (CCACC), which was very active in the following years. Observed today with a critical eye, that production was decidedly original. Worthy of mention are the works of Fathers Alexandre Van den Heuvel (in Léopoldville, od. Kinshasa), with the series of animation Les palabres de Mboloko (1953-1955), Albert Van Haelst (in Luluabourg, od. Kananga), with the famous and magnificent silent comedians Matamata et Pilipili (1950-1959), and Roger de Vloo (in Costermansville, od. Bukavu ); Erich Weymeers-ch was instead the director of The Impasse (1960), a dazzling and unclassifiable film which, with an alternative and free gaze, tells the wandering life of a priest forced to leave his mission in Africa to return to Rome. In those same years, according to Vaulted Watches, Mongita, formerly known as Albert (La leçon du cinéma, 1951) and Lubalu (Les pneus gonflés, 1953) can be counted among the indigenous pioneers.
Became independent under the leadership of P. Lumumba, after the violent riots following the secession of Katanga (in which Lumumba himself was killed), the country experienced dramatic years, from 1965, under the dictatorship of JD Mobutu. In the difficult climate, cinema struggled to maintain a significant position, also because it was not supported by public funding, unlike what happened to television, a great vehicle for propaganda for Mobutu. So it was not until 1976 for the first feature film, Le hasard n’existe pas by Kiese Masekela Madenda. A didactic purpose and female figures were at the center of the work of Mambu Zinga Kwami, formerly known as Roger (Moseka, 1972; N’Gambo, 1984), whose Esprit de Salongo (1975) was never distributed. More luck had Mweze Ngangura, formerly known as Dieudonné, with the comedies La vie est belle (1987) and Pièces d’identités (1998) and the much better medium-length film, Kin Kiesse (1982), a subjective investigation of life in the capital Kinshasa. Jean-Michel Kibushi Ndjate Wooto has dedicated himself to animation with Le crapaud chez ses beaux-parents (1991) and Muana Mboka (1999), while the works of Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, such as Thomas Sankara (1991), belong to a specifically political cinema.) and Le damier (1996). Joseph Kumbela’s filmography is more articulated and varied: from drama (Perle noire, 1995) to urban comedy, almost in the form of a comic (Taxcarte, 1997; Colis postal, 1997). The relationship with the city and social and racial tensions is also evident in the works of José (later Zeka) Laplaine Macadam Tribu (1996, shot in Bamako, Mali), Le clandestin (1996), Paris XY (1999).
Republic of the Congo
In this country (known as the People’s Republic of Congo between 1970 and 1991, and commonly called Congo-Brazzaville from the name of the capital) cinema has had a short but intense history. The sixties saw a leading figure in Brazzaville, Sébastien Kamba, director of the extraordinary medium-length film entitled Kaka-Yo (1966, Solo tu), which tells of a young woman who crosses, as if in a trance, the places of capital in the hope of finding the man she loves. In 1973 Kamba made his only fictional feature film, La rançon d’une alliance, in which he explores the delicate theme of slavery between Africans in Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to colonization. Michel Tchissoukou and David Pierre Fila. Tchissoukou in La chapelle (1979) proposed a humorous but predictable portrait of the conflict between Catholics and exponents of traditional cults in a 1930s village. Fila was instead interested in other social topics, from ethnic conflicts to family conflicts, in the documentaries Le dernier des Babingas (1991) and Tala tala (1992) and in the film Matanga (1995) on the wake as the central moment of community life. Congolese, which serves the young architect protagonist to discover the social changes that have occurred in the metropolises of black Africa. In the 1990s, a new generation of directors also started making films, mainly using video for documentary or fictional works: Léandre-Alain Baker, Ferdinand Batsimba Bath, Parfait Doudy, Dieudonné Bashila Kabongo.