Let’s face it: the Congo we hear about in the mainstream media is a Congo of extreme violence, corruption and poverty. And while we don’t deny those things are true (conflict in Congo over the past decade has claimed more than 5 million lives), there is a coexisting Congo that is full of life, hope, creativity and even happiness. But we hardly hear about that side.
To share that other forgotten side of Congo, the Enough Project launched a new mini-film series, “I Am Congo,” today to tell the stories of five amazing Congolese citizens who are living their lives amid the deadliest war in the world. The videos capture Congo’s amazing resilience and gives us both sides of the story — humanity and war; natural beauty and decay; community leadership and corruption.
I spoke to Robert Padavick, the director and producer behind “I Am Congo,” in a phone interview earlier this week. Robert, an award-winning international producer, is passionate about telling the human stories that slip under the radar of the mainstream media. He’s bewildered that these kinds of stories don’t get the attention they deserve — especially in the Congo.
This film project gave Robert the chance to let five everyday Congolese citizens share their stories — their daily struggles and successes — in their own words. “In stories of conflict, we tend to forget that there are a whole bunch of people who live here and call this place home,” he said. “They’re living their lives, and those are the stories we wanted to showcase.”
In one case, that meant sharing the story of Amani Matabaro, a community builder in Bukavu and field researcher for the Enough Project. For years, Amani had been a fixer and producer for visiting journalists — but this time the tables have turned, and he’s the focus of one of the “I Am Congo,” films.
“I told him, ‘You’ve done a lot in your career to tell the stories of a lot of other people, and now I want you to be the fixer for your own story,” Robert said. “‘Take us to the places that mean the most to you.”
Amani, a community builder who forges ties with local groups to promote peace, took Robert and the film crew to the places where his projects thrive: schools, marketplaces and sewing centers. As the film unfolds, viewers get the sense that Amani is proud of his people, and at the end of the day, he is just a regular guy who wants to live in a peaceful environment. That same sentiment is shared by Denise, a human rights lawyer; Fidel, an activist; Petna, an artist; and Dominique, a conservationist; in Enough’s film profiles.
Because Congo is in a state of conflict, it was a challenge for Robert and his crew to film at certain points. “This is the hardest place to operate that I’ve ever been to. I haven’t covered Iraq or Afghanistan in person, but this one seemed just as hard. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to do filming, and you’re pretty much limited to daylight hours — you don’t want to be doing things in the dark,” he said. “But the people in this region are amazing, hospitable. We made a lot of great friends and got to know people on the ground.”
Robert hopes to go back to the Congo in a year’s time and see how the five activists are doing. “I wish we could set up a news network and do stuff like this every day, but the intent is doing this kind of storytelling,” said Robert. “Through that, people will feel a connection to the issue and want to learn more.”