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INTERVIEW | “Viva Riva!” Director Shines a Spotlight on Kinshasa

INTERVIEW | "Viva Riva!" Director Shines a Spotlight on Kinshasa

Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s feature debut, the intoxicating action-thriller “Viva Riva!,” premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival with a bang. It has since gone on to play at Berlin and SXSW, on top of collecting six awards (including best film) at the African Movie Academy Awards. Munga opened up to indieWIRE about how his first film almost never came to be in an interview below. The film opens in limited release this Friday, June 10th.

The Deal: Riva is a small time operator who has just returned to his hometown of Kinshasa, Congo with a major score: a fortune in hijacked petrol. With wads of cash and all out for a good time, Riva is soon entranced by the beautiful nightclub siren Nora (Mannie Malone), the kept woman of a local gangster. Into the mix comes Riva’s Angolan crime lord ex-boss relentlessly seeking the return of a certain stolen shipment of gasoline. Director Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Kinshasa is a seductively vibrant, lawless, fuel-starved sprawl of shantytowns, gated villas, bordellos and nightclubs and Riva is its perfect embodiment. [Synopsis courtesy of Music Box Films]

Responses courtesy of “Viva Riva!” director Djo Tunda Wa Munga:

A brother’s suggestion…

I didn’t set out to be a filmmaker. I studied fine arts. At university I didn’t have a clear vision of what I really wanted to do. Or maybe, I was doing something and for some reason I felt there was something wrong. My brother suggested I participate in a cinema workshop. He thought that could help me “have fun.” Which I did. At the end of the workshop the teacher suggested I to apply the national film school. Which I did and that was the beginning.

Location as inspiration…

The inspiration was the city, Kinshasa. It’s such a vibrant and friendly place. The nightlife is exciting; there are such intense and expressive interactions between men and women, men and men, women and women. There is this sense of tension and passion which is edgy. Underneath there is a difficult history and environment that people have to deal with. It is an intriguing and fascinating combination for me. That’s the reason why I picked this project. I had this fascination about Kinshasa.

Apart from the documentary “When We Were Kings,” Kinshasa has never appeared on screen to North American audiences. They’ve also never heard a film in Lingala (which is a very dynamic language). It’s going to be a real new experience.

A Canadian saves the day…

Editing was difficult. I succeeded in preparing the actors through different workshops. I was able to build a strong team for the production, not go over budget, and film everything that I wanted (or almost). When I arrived in the editing room with all the material my partners and I are were convinced we had a good film. But it just didn’t work. I cut the film in many different ways but I couldn’t find the film I wrote. Something was missing.

I changed the editor four times which was not easy. Then like in a fairy tale I met this fantastic Canadian editor (through my assistant director who was also Canadian) Yves Langlois. He has 40 years of experience. He cut films in Canada, Hollywood, France and so I thought why not a Congolese movie? He started working without a script. He edits from what he sees and the magic came back. My film found its breath. I felt this huge relief in my chest, after 7 years of development on this project I was so close to a disaster.

In the works…

I’m working on a Chinese/Congo thriller set in Kinshasa. A Chinese detective travels to the Congo to take the revenge on a Chinese gangster who tried to kill him 30 years ago. But coming to Kinshasa is an all new experience that changes the paradigm of the Chinese cop. There will be more action scenes in this film, but it will also be much more of a psychological thriller.

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