Our focus is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, though we plan on our efforts going throughout all of French-speaking Africa.
Meeting Our Goals!
At "Heart of Africa," we started a simple project—a film. We did not know that there was no cinema in the Congo. More importantly, we did not know that our project and even just our presence would play a major part in launching cinema there. How gratifying to help with a film festival there in November!
We quickly expanded to three headings:
Literacy, Cinema, and Heart of Africa, a film designed to heal divisions.
The Three Points of the Heart of Africa Project
400 books (using www.africanstorybook.org) printed, bound, and distributed to five schools; book binding taught to ninety students; seven oral histories taken (these histories and future ones will become the inspirational literature to push young people towards great goals); b-roll shot for film, resources and equipment provided to Bimpa Productions, Kinshasa, DR-C. We are launched!
We will film the construction of dormitories, as called for in the screenplay, but these dorms will be real. They are intended to house two hundred students who live too far from school to attend. The construction costs are separate from the film costs, however.
Construction costs: $60,000/dorm (one hundred rooms in each dorm) in Lodja, DR-Congo.
Amphitheater to premiere the film, which will also become a theater and workshop base: $25,000. The land is purchased and the foundation marked. Funds are needed for bricks and mortar.
ONGOING PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS:
PROBLEM: Few Books.
Elementary schools, unless supported by wealthy foundations, have only a few books. That was the primary request from schools we visited. Even universities have few books. If they have any, they are outdated, often from the time of Belgium's rule.
A: Gather stories from the Congolese themselves, so that their books reflect their culture.
An infusion of books is prohibitively expensive and meets only part of the need. Our solution is to gather oral histories (working with FamilySearch.org) and select stories from these histories which can become books.
B: Teaching book creation
We will teach anyone who wishes to learn how to create books. We envision this as a "families mentoring families" initiative, which will be sustained by the people themselves as they teach one another. We will teach three types of book binding and will have the artistic help of two great artists to teach illustration. Thus, families can create their own libraries and can even set up businesses selling books.
C: Booking the DR-Congo
We plan on creating small libraries wherever we work and tooling teachers at elementary schools to make books and to teach the craft to their students.
We will film the instructions for book crafting, to be broadcast over television and ultimately in our makeshift cinemas. We will also film episodes of children's programming similar to "Reading Rainbow." Currently, the only television for children in the DR-C consists of cartoons—and only those in families wealthy enough to own televisions have such access.
PROBLEM: No cinema in the DR-Congo.
Though the Congolese can purchase pirated DVDs on the street and, if they have a laptop (a privilege of only about 30% of people in large cities and none in rural areas), can play the film, there is no communal experience with film.
When we were in the DR-Congo, some of our Congolese friends asked why cinema was important. Sterling Van Wagenen, a renowned American filmmaker, replied, "A movie is a communal dream. The lights go out, and everyone has the same dream." The implications of a "shared dream" are enormous.
We are particularly focusing on films (to be screened or to be made) about peace building and resiliency. Many Congolese have told us that the real problem in their country is a lack of vision. People go day-to-day without a sense of what their future will include—the future for themselves, their families, and their nation. A communal dream about resilience and peace building can become a catalyst to conversation and action to build a new Congo, one which honors its greatest wealth—not just the resources but the people.
SOLUTIONS: Create makeshift cinemas in various communities, rural and city-centered, to inspire the Congolese with the power of film.
In addition, we will teach filmmaking, by documenting the work of young Congolese filmmaker Tshoper Kabambi, who has set up his own production company, Bimpa Productions. He is a rarity in the DR-C. Though Djo Monga has created a feature film ("Viva Riva") which was successful, his valiant attempts to start a film industry have not yet found success. A Fulbright scholar from Columbia University tried to train a number of Congolese in the art of screenwriting, but none completed the program. We plan on supervising follow-through as well as instruction.
Making a Film: Heart of Africa
THE PROBLEM: Division
SOLUTION: Expanded vision
We will prepare to make a feature film and, as part of the filmmaking, will train Congolese interns. This will give them skills that will prepare the way for a film industry in the DR-C.
In addition, the film itself will convey a message about respecting differences and bridging divisions. Heart of Africa—which is currently in pre-production—will show Evangelical preachers, Catholic nuns, and Muslim peace builders working together to fortify an orphanage. Two central figures are Mormon missionaries, one white and one black. Both must confront their own pasts and the pasts of their belief systems. The Congolese missionary is a former revolutionary, and the American missionary a recovering alcoholic who is largely unaware of the Mormon past in racial issues—though he quickly learns of it. If all of these characters fail to unite to re-build the orphanage, children will die when the rains and the inevitable mosquitoes come. As their efforts continue, cultural conflicts arise and explode. The main character, from the Luba tribe, has (so he thinks) killed a young woman from an "enemy" tribe (Katanga), and is certain that her boyfriend is trying to kill him. He learns by the end that this perceived enemy is not the threat. It is someone close to him, whom he had never suspected.
Heart of Africa Project is sponsored by Nobody Knows LLC and IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project).