Many films featured in this week’s LDS Film Festival have modest goals: Tell a story, perhaps find distribution and reach as many people as possible.
The movie “Heart of Africa,” however, embarked on a much loftier purpose.
“Our objective was not just to make a film, but to kickstart the cinema industry in the DR-Congo,” said Margaret Blair Young, producer and co-writer of the movie, which has its first LDS Film Festival showing on Wednesday, but will receive a replay on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the SCERA’s Clarke Grand Theater.
Of course, the difficulty of reaching that objective comes into clearer focus when you realize there were no movie theaters in Congo when the project started, and the only movies available themselves were on DVDs, which were viewed on laptops or televisions for those wealthy enough to afford them.
“We believe that the imagination unlocks possibility, and that film encourages the imagination,” Young said. “We also believe that every human story matters. As we showed Congolese characters speaking in their own language, we also said to our audience in the Congo: ‘You matter. Your story matters.’ Everyone on the team, Americans and Africans, understood that our goal with this film went beyond the film itself.”
It was originally planned, Young said, that the film would be made by an American team. That team, however, believed it was impossible to make the movie in a country without infrastructure, and wanted instead to make it in South Africa. That brought the original plan to a standstill.
“After the team fell apart, I made the decision to go ahead and attempt the seemingly impossible,” Young said. “I knew that (director) Tshoper (Kabambi) was an enormously gifted filmmaker, and that he had been gathering and training other Congolese with the goal of establishing film in that country.”
While Kabambi had won awards for his short films — which he submitted to festivals via the internet — his equipment was not up to the standard necessary to make a feature film.
“We got money to provide that equipment and the efforts began,” Young said. “All of us Americans, actors and producers, took equipment — cameras, lenses, lighting, computers — to (Congo capital) Kinshasa. Though the American team which we had thought would make the film did not accompany us to the Congo, they did provide enormous post-production help. We are indebted to them and the studio space they opened to us without charge and the counsel they generously gave to us. We could not have done the film well without Kaleidoscope Pictures.”
In the end, Young said, the film “was made 100 percent by the Congolese in their own country” and that it has, indeed, launched the film industry there.
The premiere was held on Feb. 15 in Kinshasa, where a cinema was built just last year.
Based on true events, the film tells the story of a Congolese man who flees a terrible accident and ends up at a revolutionary camp. He is told he has a great destiny, but must face his fears and his shame to embrace his possibilities. More than anything, Young said the overriding message of the movie is one of forgiveness — especially self-forgiveness.
Young referenced Congolese actor Elbas Manuana, who plays a revolutionary leader in the film, and related his reaction to seeing the final production premiere in a movie theater in his own country.
“When he saw ‘Heart of Africa’ at the premiere,” Young said, “he said, ‘Now I can die in peace. You have done it. You’ve made a real film — not just a video, but a real film.’”