Articles & Notes — February 25, 2013 at 10:16 am

Filmmakers risk lives to shoot documentary about Congo

congo-docThey knew the rebel invasion was coming, they just didn’t know when.

But when M23 insurgents invaded the city of Goma in eastern Congo in November, the crew of the documentary film “This is Congo” was in New York City about to start post-production.

They almost missed the climax of the film they had spent the last two years shooting.

Although there was only a couple thousand dollars left in the $350,000 production budget, Toronto-born producer Geoff McLean immediately booked the crew a flight back.

On Nov. 23, two days after the invasion, his American partner, filmmaker Daniel McCabe, and Congolese field producer Horeb Bulambo arrived in Goma, a city caught in the grip of rebel forces.

For McLean and McCabe, both 33, making the film has been a difficult journey. The country’s long history of war, suffering and political disorder has created a culture of impunity, making it “unfriendly” for journalists, says McCabe.

“Congo is a land of incredible beauty and intense violence and corruption,” he says by telephone from Goma.

Returning to film the M23 rebellion required McLean and his team at Shortcut Films Inc. to turn to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise some fast cash.

They put together a seven-minute teaser video from the more than 600 hours of footage already filmed. The fundraising campaign started on Dec. 4, and in 30 days, they raised more than $30,500 to finance the shoot for three more months.

McCabe first visited Congo as a freelance photographer in 2008 to cover a similar rebel uprising led by Laurent Nkunda.

He saw a country that was being discounted — and it made an impact on him. “Congo is a place that shouldn’t be overlooked for the amazing qualities that it does have: strength of will, faith, resiliency and culture.”

For this project, he gained access to Congo’s underworld of warlords and mineral smugglers. He interviewed several rebel groups, including the M23, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and four different Mai-Mai rebel groups.

And he spent two weeks with the rapid response commander unit of the FARDC, the Congolese military.

Yet one essential part of the story – scenes of war – is still missing from McCabe’s footage. Although he has come under fire, he has not been able to film it yet.

“You can’t understand Congo unless you see the hysterics of firefight,” says McCabe. Before he can get close enough to film, “we start taking fire.”

The risks have almost killed him. But his most harrowing experience came eight weeks ago, after the M23 rebels had retreated from Goma.

When M23 attacked the city, inmates from the local jail escaped. Civilians took it upon themselves to protect the city.

“There was a witch-hunt for the prisoners,” McCabe recalls.

Anyone suspected of being a thief was attacked and burned alive.

McCabe was filming such an attack. A crowd of almost 1,000 people had gathered and the mood quickly grew ugly. Then the stoning began.

Without warning the lava and rocks started coming towards them. They fled without injury.

The partners hope to premiere the film in September and tour it through the festival circuit, including the Canadian documentary film festival, Hot Docs, in Toronto.

Their goal, said McCabe, is to provide a looking glass into the lives of the people mired by war. For audiences “to see that Congo is worth saving.”

Alyson Rowe is a global journalism fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. She worked in Congo for War Child Canada.

Leaders of several African countries and United Nations officials on Sunday announced a new “framework” to tackle instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-torn country that has become synonymous with suffering and has eluded countless attempts to build a lasting peace over the years.

The new effort calls for greater cooperation among Congo’s neighbors — several of which are suspected of sponsoring violence inside Congo — and political changes by the Congolese government.

United Nations and African officials are also proposing a new beefed-up “peace enforcement” brigade of about 2,000 soldiers to go after rebel groups in Congo.

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