The policeman wasn’t much older than Tshoper, but his gait suggested his power—not actual power, but enough to demand money and threaten jail time.
Tshoper was filming with a rented camera. He knew he would now be accused of something and fined. Policemen in the DR-Congo make little money, and supplement it through bribery—or what they might call “tips” or “fines.”
“Show me your authorization to film,” the policeman demanded.
“I am a student. I’m studying filmmaking. I’m just doing an assignment.” It was all true.
“You can’t film without permission from the Minister of Media. Give me your camera.”
“Don’t take my camera.”
The power play landed Tshoper in jail—with a fine of $250. USD. An impossibility.
His cell mates were “hooligans”, as he describes them, and each was allotted only one bathroom trip per day. The cell stunk. They were given no food—and no hope. He had no way to contact his family. He had no way of knowing how long he would be in “the container.” Days? Years? It was Hell. Could anything be worth risking a sentence to this putrid pit?
By the time he was released three days later, he had decided that he would abandon the dream of making films. Who cared if he made movies? There was no support, and there was enormous risk. What could his films do other than get him into trouble?
He had been released through the efforts of a friend with some military connections. Walking home, he was certain he stunk as bad as the cell. He stepped through his front door faint and empty, and found it hard to even form the words to tell his his parents sullenly what had happened. Vowing to drop out of school and abandon cinema, Tshoper lay down on his bed. A cloud of gloom enveloped him. He had no desire to speak or eat.
A few days later, he talked to his friend, DouDou–his fellow student in the National Institute of Arts. The two of them always greeted each other with a loud, “A-whooo!” This time, Tshoper couldn’t get the sounds out. “I’m finished,” he said. “No more filming.”
Dou-Dou looked at him hard. “What do you mean? You can’t quit. Without cinema, you are nothing. You were made to make movies.”
“If you quit cinema, what will you do?”
He had no answer. Within a week, he returned to the school, returned to theater, and eventually made his first film—a short.
When a friend of his, a journalist, was imprisoned for eighteen months after writing a story perceived as anti-government, Tshoper could imagine exactly what he was going through. Eventually, his own experience and that of his friend led him to make a short film titled SOS, about a young journalist who crosses a political line and finds himself in “the container.”
Much bigger films awaited him, and his experience--in life and with film-- prepared him daily.