There were three cinemas in Kinshasa, DR-Congo when Tshoper Kabambi was a baby, but he never saw a film. By the time he was twelve, the cinemas had gone the way of many things in Kinshasa. They were ramshackle hints of what had once existed, habitats for rats.
Tshoper saw a Bollywood film via internet when he was a young teen, and announced to his father that he had found his vocation. He would become a filmmaker. He enrolled in the Kinshasa Institute of Arts and was told by one of his professors, “That’s for rich people. Don’t you realize you’re poor?”
Besides, how do you make films in a country without cinemas, without distribution, without any financial support?
At one point, Tshoper did get the offer of some financial support, but it had to be filtered through the government before it could get to him. The sum was $1200. A government official assured him that he could have the money–at least some of it. He could have $400. Where would the rest go? The official (an extraordinarily wealthy man) explained that everyone needed something. Tshoper replied, “This country is failing because of corruption. I will not help you become more corrupt.” The official explained that it was $400. or nothing. Tshoper–to the dismay and fury of his friends–declined it. With no money, he established “Bimpa Productions”.
The finances? The office rental was $200./month. However, when one of Tshoper’s fellow filmmakers was arrested and imprisoned for eighteen months, it was impossible to pay rent. They lost the office. Tshoper works from his home now.
The equipment? No lighting equipment, just the glorious sun of the Congo. No fancy trailers or cranes or helicopters for aerial shots, just ladders and roof tops.
And yet, Tshoper’s first film, “Mbote“, a short, won an award at the Francophone Film Festival in Belgium. (See here.)
What was it in this kid from Kinshasa that would not be forced into a corner by the reminder of his poverty?
In this series of upcoming blog posts, which I invite you to share liberally, we will accompany Tshoper on his dream quest. Note that he shares his dreams with all of his teammates at Bimpa Productions, and they support one another. They are each other’s actors, producers, editors, cameramen, etc. They understand that each must depend on the other. There was no better testament to that fact than when the one was put into prison and things fell apart.
I will recount Tshoper’s history as we follow him over the rest of our time (we depart on Aug. 15th) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is scheduled to leave for Durban on July 12th to participate in the Durban International Film Festival, which accepted his film, titled SOS. That trip is not yet guaranteed–even though his flight and his lodging are fully paid for.
Americans do not need a visa to go to South Africa, whether for tourism or for business. Such is not the case for Congolese. When I previously tried to help a Congolese friend get to South Africa, I had to attest that he would return to the Congo, and I had to prove that his expenses were covered. We were finally told that the visa was ready, and we picked it up. It was in a sealed envelope. When my friend finally opened it as we were driving home, he found a letter declaring that the visa had been denied.
There are no guarantees.
Tshoper and I first went to apply for the visa three days ago. He filled out the application in blue ink and was told that the ink needed to be black. He re-did the application, and submitted it. This time, he was told that he needed to prove that his hotel booking was paid for, and the person who paid needed to show bank statements covering the previous three months. Our efforts would have to be delayed. We returned to the office this morning with all papers in tow. Tshoper was then told that he could not apply for the visa without his “yellow card” (indicating current immunization for yellow fever)–even though nobody leaves the DR-Congo without showing that paper. So he went back for the card. Around 11:00 this morning, he finally submitted the application. He is to go back on Monday to see whether it was issued or denied.
And that is where we leave the story tonight. I cannot be certain of what will happen next.