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Culture Documentary

From the front lines

(Daniel McCabe/Abramorama/AP)


From the front lines

War film offers a bracing look at the civil war in Congo

This is Congo: Mortar rounds fired from a military truck scream in flight, sending villagers on a dirt road diving into the brush for cover. A water tanker pulls into a tent-strewn displacement camp, where a throng carrying buckets and pans rushes to meet it. A woman takes a bag of semiprecious gemstones by motorcycle across the border for an illegal transaction.

The new documentary This Is Congo dares the front lines of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Director Daniel McCabe plies vivid cinematography and gutsy camerawork, doing all the filming himself, at times as shells explode nearby and bullets hiss overhead. Two officers in the Congolese national army speak on camera: the lanky, youthful Mamadou Ndala, and the pseudonymous “Col. Kasongo,” his voice and face disguised. Gen. Makenga, the leader of the M23, the main rebel group, comments as well. Destitute and uprooted Congolese civilians testify to the hardship of the 20-year conflict. “It seems that God has forgotten us,” laments Hakiza Nyantaba, 58, a tailor who ekes out a living with his portable sewing machine.

Congo possesses a wealth of diamonds, gold, and other mineral resources. Makenga alleges President Joseph Kabila manipulates his country’s commodities trade for personal benefit. Makenga also contends the rebellion would end if Kabila would reinstate and compensate the rebels, many of whom deserted the national army because of poor pay. Ndala lauds Kabila and preaches unity, while Kasongo claims forces from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are stoking tensions. Who is to be trusted? Everyone has an answer, but no one does.

The unrated film’s continual cycling through conflicting opinions, scenes of dire poverty, and disturbing war images left me exhausted and confused. Imagine how the Congolese people feel.

The documentary’s shocking ending suggests peace isn’t coming soon: Jealous colleagues assassinate one of the three interviewed military leaders. For this is Congo.