Focus: New Narratives - Interview with Bernadette Vivuya and Kagoma Ya Twahirwa

Listening Instead of Just Filming

With his documentary ‘Stop Filming Us’, film-maker Joris Postema wanted to portray life in Goma, a large city in the DR Congo. After the film premiere in Goma, heated discussions erupted among the audience members. Should a white European film crew be telling these stories? Together with Rwandan film-maker Kagoma Ya Twahirwa, Congolese film-maker Bernadette Vivuya took the footage and reedited it into a new film: Stop Filming Us But Listen. Stefanie Groth spoke to both film-makers about the challenges of breaking through the colonial perspective.


How did you manage to create a film that better reflects your point of view using the same footage?

Kagoma: It wasn’t easy! We had to go through tonnes of footage that we had no control over. Joris’ influence on the film as a whole was very difficult to reduce. We often felt like we were slipping back into his narrative and perspective, and that frustrated us enormously. I watched the film over and over again to better understand its narrative patterns and thus avoid reproducing them. 

Bernadette: We also used some archive images to dig deeper and shed more light on the issue of representation. This was important to get our message across, that we need to engage with the construction of the colonial gaze and the consequences it is having to this day. 

Stop Filming Us, But Listen
Bernadette Vivuya, Kagoma Ya Twahirwa | CD, NL | 2022 | 72 Min. | OmeU

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A woman covers her face with a scarf – she does not want to be filmed – but the camera continues to point at her. This scene is from a documentary by a Dutch film team. Their aim is to portray life in Goma, a large city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But are they even the right ones to tell this story? Should they stop filming instead? A discussion ensues. Together with filmmaker Kagoma Ya Twahirwa, Congolese filmmaker and journalist Bernadette Vivuya decides to re-edit the footage taken from a Western perspective and expand it by including a Congolese perspective. Can this dissolve the colonial gaze?

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Is it legitimate at all for anyone other than those whose history and living conditions have been massively influenced by (post-)colonialism to tell these stories? 

B: Legitimate or not, the problem for me isn’t that Western directors make films about the region. The problem is that the distribution of the means of production does not allow for the perspective of those first affected by the story to be heard. I’m bothered by the lack of points of view. It is not my intention at all to deny the many problems we face: poverty, insecurity, etc. But I also want Congolese history and our efforts to improve the daily life of our community to be taken into account. 

K: I don’t think anyone can or should claim a monopoly on any stories. Being from the Global South is not enough to do justice to stories about colonialism. The approach and the process are just as important as the context and the intention. I do not believe it is impossible for those coming from colonial countries to have the right intentions or to take the right approach. 

What opportunities do you have to make documentaries as African film-makers?  

K: It’s not easy at all. Even if you find a producer, they’re not willing to let you try anything that’s unfamiliar to them. You need to adapt in order to access funding.  

B: But the situation is changing. Local initiatives are supporting film-makers. The artistic creation centre Yole!Africa does this, for example. This organisation, founded in Goma, accompanies us by training us, giving us access to equipment and enabling us to engage in exchange. We need more such initiatives. 

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30. JANUARY 2023