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(DOC NYC started November 9 and runs through November 16. HtN has you covered with reviews so keep checking back!)

A devastating exposé of governmental corruption and the lingering, horrifying legacy of colonialism, This is Congo follows a variety of citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in central Africa, as they struggle to survive in the current mess that is their country. We meet Colonels “Kasongo” (not his real name) and Mamadou Ndala, of the national army, rebel commander La Fontaine, “Mama Romance” – a mother who collects gems for a living – and tailor Hakiza Nyantaba, among others. Each sheds light on a different aspect of Congolese history and current affairs, neither of which is particularly pleasant. Mineral-rich and ethics-poor, the DRC has long been a victim of exploitation, be it by foreign powers or the local elite. Always, those who suffer most are the ordinary people. This may be Congo, but we can see there the reflections of problems that affect us all.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is how it is filmed. Making his feature debut, director/cinematographer Daniel McCabe displays uncommon courage – or recklessness, or both – throwing himself and his camera into the middle of the many battles we witness. After 20 years of civil war, the DRC is overrun, in areas, by more than 50 armed rebel groups, with a revolving influx of soldiers that go from army to rebel group and back again. Imagine running towards the gunfire, the ground erupting around you, and you’ll get a sense of just how insane our intrepid McCabe is. And here I thought that Matthew Heineman, with his 2015 Cartel Land, had set a near-impossible standard of documentary risk-tasking. I was wrong. As a viewer, I am grateful. As a fellow filmmaker, I don’t know whether to applaud or recoil in fear. Whatever it takes, I suppose.

Still, the real ones at risk are the subjects, who don’t have the option of later retreating to an editing room to shape the story. Even the men with guns are mostly powerless against the larger forces that pull the triggers. Will they soon turn into the corpses we encounter on the side of the road, or be the ones to create new such corpses? All this misery takes place against a backdrop of lush, green landscapes that is as close to paradise on earth as one could hope. “Kasongo” (whose distorted voice is translated for us by actor Isaach de Bankolé, Mother of George) laments the “geographic scandal” that has reduced such a potentially wealthy nation to a war-torn wasteland, but with a current president, Laurent Kabila, seemingly little better than past dictator Mobutu, there is not much hope for the future. The film ends on an image of small children playing on the wings of a wrecked plane, their dreams grounded, as well. Brilliant and tragic, This Is Congo will break your heart.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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