Director Jacques Sarasin‘s music doc “On the Rumba River” is described as a “tribute to the Congolese people… In the face of staggering poverty, a history of oppression and a long-time civil war that has claimed the lives of four million people, people continue to find solace in music. The film focuses on Antoine Kolosoy, whose music was banned by the Belgian colonia authorities who feared his joyful rhythms would cuase unrest. In the ’60s, his songs expressed the hopes of the newly independent country that believed in its future… This is the second directing project for Sarasin following his 2001 drama “Je chanterai pur toi” (I’ll Sing for You). The film is currently in limited release from First Run Features.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
After having had several jobs of different types, I decided to produce film. And after several years, I decided to direct my first film, “I’ll sing for you.” Why this film? Because when I proposed the subject of the film to a film director, he answered me “Oh, it will be hot in Mali.” So I decided to make the film myself.
How did the idea for “On the Rumba River” come about?
The idea came when I was listening a CD of Wendo Kolosoy and watching a photo on the cover of the disc. There was so much in this photo of this musician, that I thought there was material for a film. Afterwards I read the biography of Wendo and I found it so interesting and so great that I decided to meet him to propose to make a film about his life and music.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
I decided to travel to Kinshasa with a very small team and stay there for the time needed to understand how the people I decided to work with were living. We found very good material (HDCam and Cantar sound) but stayed in Congo a long time.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the film, and how did the financing come together?
It’s always difficult to find money to make such films because you never know what the film will look like before having ended the shooting. So I financed 2/3 of the film myself, with the objective to be reimbursed with the distribution and TV sales. The film has been released in France and Switzerland and it worked !
What are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
The photo. I think that you cannot put in a film an image which doesn’t talk itself. You should be able to see a film without subtitles and appreciate it even if you don’t understand everything.
What is your next project?
I am just finishing editing a film about Joseph Stiglitz life and ideas. We filmed in Ecuador, India, Botswana, China and East Chicago where he was born. I like this film because it is not just a complaint about globalization but it proposes and shows solutions.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
In principle, I am only interested in making documentaries, to penetrate the lives of others. But I would be very interested in directing a feature film with non-professional actors. Like going in Africa or South America or anywhere else with a script and finding local people to work with. Making a Western in Africa for example
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed since you first started working?
For me, it is a film that you can shoot and edit exactly like you want (as a director), without any TV and financial influence.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Stop thinking or complaining, make films, even with small budgets or material.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of…
When Jonathan Demme decided to support my film “I’ll sing for you.” We never met, my film was almost packed in cardboard boxes, nobody was interested and one of my friends showed him the film. He liked it and decided to help me. Great man!