Review of "Juju Factory" by Hans-Christian Mahnke, AfricAvenir, Windhoek, Namibia
“Juju Factory” provides an adroit analysis of issues of immigration and integration. The film brilliantly questions ideas of “authentic” representations of “Africaness,” introducing a complex cinematic language that shows how contemporary African film not only is diverse in its tendencies but also relates in diverse ways to different (trans-)national traditions and schools of thought. Directed by Congolese filmmaker Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, the film was the big event during the 2007 Fespaco - the Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where it had its world premiere. It has received four awards for best film in Austria (Innsbruck International Film Festival), in Tanzania (Zanzibar International Film Festival), in Kenya (Kenya International Film Festival) and in France (African Film Festival at Apt). Furthermore the film received also the Best Actress Award (Carole Karemera as Béatrice) in Italy (Festival Cinema Africano, Bari).
In December 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa, famous writer from Peru, received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Only a month earlier, in November 2010, Vargas Llosa presented his newest book “El sueno del celta” to a Spanish speaking audience. It has been a bestseller in Spain and was the most popular title at the XXIV Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara. The book is a novelization of the life of Anglo-Irish diplomat-turned-Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916). Sir Roger Casement became world famous for his exposure to and his first-hand accounts of the systematic tortures inflicted on the people of Congo by European commercial and colonial concerns at the time of King Leopold II of Belgium.
The book entitled “The dream of the Celt” is scheduled to appear in English in early 2012. Once the book will be available in English, it will again put Congo and its colonisation on the centre of debates around the world. I am saying this, since I do believe that Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Prize and the ever-controversial Casement could prove irresistible, especially to an English speaking audience. It also could once again show that colonisation, exploitation, and capitalism can go pretty well hand in hand. Something, the globalising Occupy Wallstreet Movement might put onto its agenda sooner or later too.
The novel naturally and purposefully invites comparison with Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. But it also could and should draw attention on a film made a few years earlier, “Juju Factory”.
What is the film about and why does it relate to “The Dream of the Celt”?
The people of Congo suffered under Belgian rule tremendously, beyond imagination. And as well as Casement, director Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda is tortured by this reality. But, other than Casement, Bakupa-Kanyinda suffers additionally and rightfully too from the projections on Black people and his acute awareness of the state of Africa.
The film, as Oliver Barlet put it, is a “meditation in accordance with Balafu Bakupa-Kanyinda's now well-identified obsessions and style: Africa's relation to power and creation”.
Deliberately fictional the film touches styles of documentary reporting in order to catch the echoes of the inhabitants talking about their neighborhood: "To each street its own people", one of them says. The film does its best to break the globalizing image of a mythical Africa.
“Juju Factory” invites us to read a dense net of references and allusions, names and phantoms, memories and nightmares. With the help of the protagonist, the writer Congo Kongo, the filmmaker leads us through Matonge, the only European city area to have an African name, a district in the south of Brussels, renamed after a commercial district in Kinshasa.
With a repo man threatening to take away all his belongings, people back home in Congo Kongo depending on him to send money, and a need to express his own feelings about exil and about his roots, Congo Kongo agrees to write a book – supposedly a “travel guide” spiced up with ethnic exotic ingredients to introduce Matonge Village to white Europeans, promising a commercial success – for an allegedly African publishing house. So begins the conflict between Congo Kongo and Joseph Désiré, his dictatorial publisher, and African insisting to be Belgian, who goes so far as to ask the statue of king Leopold for advice for how to deal with this uppity writer.
Inspired by the vision of complex and tormented souls that he meets at all crossings in Matonge, and since Matonge started in the tombs of the colonial expositions of the museum of Tervuren, Kongo conceives of the idea of writing a book that follows the paths of Congolese history and its many ghosts. Delving away too deep for his editor’s comfort, since he doesn’t write a tourist guide as requested but a narrative of different African stories from a migration background, Kongo Congo must try to keep his head above disaster and finish his book. Hints appear that the book Congo Kongo is writing is in fact the film we are watching. And as Joseph Désiré becomes increasingly rigid and demanding, insisting on a prettified advertisement about ethnic color in Belgium’s capital, Congo Kongo becomes increasingly haunted by thoughts of Patrice Lumumba and the history of European theft and pillage of the African continent.
Congo Kongo’s journey evokes images that need to be read. The face of Patrice Lumumba cross-fades beneath the surface; it appears alongside the rhymes of young rappers; it looks back from the wall of the writer's apartment, framed like a precious souvenir inspiring poetic and thoughtful writing. Then the montage switches to an extract from the documentary by Thomas Giefer “Mord im Kolonialstil”. We see Gerard Soete; the man who finished off the conglomerate’s dirty work. He laughs while holding two teeth in his hands, two teeth dislodged from Patrice Lumumba’s head. Finally, these transfers of remembrance lead to the whispered question: What have we made of ourselves?
"As long as the lion won't be able to tell, all hunting tales will be to the glory of the hunter" the film tells us, encouraging, yes, demanding from Africans, to start taking charge of one's own history, and to do so while believing in the human being, before one has become another Joseph Désiré, Congo Kongo’s publisher.
In the end, Congo Kongo writes a story from his soul about injustice, racism, and colonialism in the modern world. Despite the lure of money, bill collectors, and pressure from his editor, he manages to stay the course and complete his novel. Kongo, his community, and the cinema audience might discover how it is possible to stand upright with the terrible colonial past of Europe, Africa, and the world. "You are a man because the other is", Kongo writes in his notebook.
The tokoloshe we are looking for, is in our fellow man, hiding in the then and now. It’s for us to see.
- Best film Tyrol Awards, Innsbruck International Film Festival, Austria 2007
- Golden Dhow Award Best film, Zanzibar International Film Festival 2007
- Best film, Kenya International Film Festival 2007
- Best film, Festival de Cinema Africain d’Apt, France 2007
- Best Actress (Carole Karemera), Festival Cinema Africano, Italy
“Avec “Juju Factory” Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinde offre un diamant du Congo aux cinéphiles du Continent.” (www.lefaso.net - Burkina Faso)
“The wealth of ideas, the humour, a deliberately crazy camera and tight interwoven editing, voluntarist dialogue and roaming at night… Juju Factory is a factory for manifestos, a Soleil Ô-type cry in which Le Damier would have spawn its offspring. Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda seems to be looking for the life-saving juju, this talisman supposed to protect us from monsters and which must be hiding somewhere out there, in the culture reread in the light of the present. It's for the tortured artists to take action, in the colorlessness of their interior exile, listening to their exile as immigrants or victims of exclusion. It's that crazy Balufu's pleasure to put us on track with this rich, diverse, operatic, scathing and torn film.” (Oliver Barlet, AfriCultures)
« A humourous and super-clever social commentary on ... exile and migration? Belgian colonialism? Racism in Europe? The psychology of the colonized? Of the decolonized? Of the comprador bourgeoisie? ... I think all these things.” (www.sketchythoughts.blogspot.com - USA)
“This film carries a heavy load of diasporic desires and above all fears. ... The concrete Belgian past which the film brings into view harks back to 1897 when 250 Congolese men and women were shipped to Belgium to feature in the colonial section of the Universal exhibition, but the film also recalls the murder of Lumumba. Psychologically and conceptually, the filmmaker displaces the diasporic ‘double consciousness’ and explores the multiplexity of attitudes and identifications of Congolese and Africans which he explicitly defines as ‘in exile’ in Belgium.” (Karel Arnaut – University Ghent, Mediating Matonge: Relocations of Belgian postcoloniality)