PHONE INTERVIEW WITH THE FILMMAKER PETNA NDALIKO KATONDOLO
Q. You call yourself an artist and a social activist. What do you mean by that?
A. It is all about Art for social changes. I respect art and its inventive rules. I try through my art to carry the messages of the voiceless. Many people don’t care about passing on the message. They just do it for conceit. The inspirations we get are free of charge from Nyamuhanga the Almighty, so we ought to make use of it for something positive for the humanity. “We are the people”.
Q. With “Pandisha Bendera”, is this the first time you are returning to the DRC after 9 years of exile in Uganda?
A. No. I set up Yolé in Goma two years ago.
Q. You say that artists in the Congo haven’t been playing their role well. How? Why?
A. I have the impression that most artists are not doing what they ought to be doing. They are just playing the role of the troubadours, singing praises of politicians. Art should be used for social changes. Art is a great tool to democratize a country.
Q. You say that artists should play a role in nation building. How?
A. Art and culture in general plays a federation role, in times of crisis it remains no matter what happens. It’s a vector of hope. It is also an ambassador, a kind of “business card” of a nation. For many years Congo was divided, the only thing that was working in this country was art. The only thing that was uniting the country from east-west was music.
Q. How will cinema contribute to the pacification and reunification process, in particular of the Congo?
A. In today’s world, it counts a lot on someone’s capacities to portray his or her own image. So its time for us to take control of our own images. And cinema and Medias in general are great tools for that. They play a very important role in representing our image. We should dream with our own people, we will dream about a new Africa, not the one of clichéd and prejudiced images.
Cinema will also be at the same time a permanent survey of what the politicians are doing and communities’ rapprochement by facilitating the dialogue between the people.
Q. Since when have you been active again as a filmmaker in the DRC and what kind of repression have you encountered there?
A. Holding a camera is a threat to the government and to the rebels. People are now used to see people holding all sorts of guns. Cameras are rare and rather strange. And in this region politicians have a lot of things to hide. So they want everything to contain under their control. But the camera is something they can scarcely control. People with guns have surrounded me several times and forced me to erase all of my tapes. But now with Yolé, I have become some kind of a role model for the youth, if they arrest me, they (the youth) will demonstrate.
Q. You say that we should decolonize our minds with cinema, how?
A. By being objective and candid … we people from the African descendent have the heavy responsibility to contribute to rewrite our own history and as we are from an aural culture, cinema is one of the great means to help us gather our memories that have been scattered allover the world in museums, galleries and palaces then tell the true story of the cradle of humanity.
The second step would be to find a balance in the exchange: –
The images the west portrays to us about their land are just beautiful images but what people see is out of synch with reality; and that is one of the reasons many people struggle to immigrate at all cost. They (the west) have to show us both sides of their coin just as we have to show both sides of our reality,
Q. You said that when you showed your films in France it was said their quality couldn’t be coming from Africa as if only young Europeans are the ones who can make quality films. They therefore dubbed them ‘experimental works’. – How do you react to that rather insulting statement? What do you think prompts people to come up with such statements?
A. They are talking again about their exotic Africa, the one they have labeled! Such a statement is discourteous. We are in a global village and in this global village, I live in Africa and in my Africa, they have to remember that I have a “Djembe drum” and the Internet, so I’m thinking globally and acting locally.
Q. You say that you want to make positive black images. How exactly are you doing this? How in your documentary about the elections?
A. “Positive African images” Is not about color. I would rather its honest image about the “people”. To be honest with the reality, whether positive or negative, it should be honest without cliché or prejudice.
Q. What is your stance on “reframing tradition” as a filmmaker in the Congo today? What role should cinema have in regards to traditional African culture?
A. The cultural (tradition) is the base; with cinema we can get back our memories in order to build a sustainable future. Because people without memories are blind, so we should recollect and rewrite our memories scattered allover the world; in museums and privet collections.
Q. In the artmatters, a Kenyan website, you stated that every region of the Congo has its artistic specialty and then you say that Eastern Congo is film, could you please expand on this?
A. Everything has been concentrated in Kinshasa for so many years and Kinshasa is so far away from the East of Congo. A one way air ticket would cost about $350, given that there is no road transport. If a teacher makes only $10 a month, he would never be able to get to Kinshasa. So I was suggesting that each region should bring its specialty to the plate then we create a platform which will serve as a network for the all country so that we can develop together by sharing our experiences.
Q. What do you think about the situation in Holland today?
A. Holland used to have this image of a free country. It used to be a symbol of freedom. Now I’m surprised when I am walking in the streets there I have to look over my shoulders to see if nothing is wrong. I think we are losing our community values. If we could retrieve the same Holland I knew, that would be nice.
André Dryansky for Africa in the picture
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TRANSCRIPTION JULY 17, 2006