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Behind the Scenes with ‘I Am Congo’

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Behind the Scenes with ‘I Am Congo’

Posted by Chloe Christman and John Bagwell on May 11, 2012

Behind the Scenes with ‘I Am Congo’

Editor’s Note: On May 1, the Raise Hope for Congo campaign launched “I Am Congo,” a new video series highlighting voices from the ground. The series profiles five inspiring Congolese individuals—Fidel Bafilemba, Amani Matabaro, Denise Siwatula, Petna Ndaliko, and Dominique Bikaba—who are making a difference in their communities. Enough Said will be highlighting each video profile over the coming weeks.

Last fall, we were part of an Enough Project team who travelled to eastern Congo to capture stories for our new video series, “I Am Congo.” Our team set out on a two-week trip to meet with five inspiring individuals in the region. Our goal was to share their stories in a new light, and show a side of Congo that transcends the typical narratives and stereotypes coming out of the region.

The week before we left, our team of four—both of us, Enough Director of Content Robert Padavick, and cameraman Jeff Trussell—gathered over a pot of chili to discuss how the five profile stories would primarily be shaped by the situation and people on the ground—not our pre-planning. Though we had been formulating the concept of this video series for months in advance, we knew that the only thing you can plan and expect for in Congo is the unexpected.  

Once we arrived in Congo, despite briefing Denise, Amani, Fidel, Dominique, and Petna about the intention and goal of the project through phone calls and extensive email conversations, it was difficult for them to open up about the more personal aspects of their lives. They each expected us to ask about the ongoing conflict, which we did, but we were also interested in where their kids go to school, what is their favorite restaurant, and how they live their lives on a daily basis given the instability that has surrounded them for fifteen years. At first, they were skeptical that anyone would care about these aspects of their personal lives, but also curious as to why they should be the center of attention. Despite each individual’s passionate dedication to creating a better future for their communities at extraordinary risk to themselves and their families, they are rarely the stars of the show.

This is precisely why we wanted them to tell their stories. Their reactions were a reflection of how rarely this side of life in Congo is highlighted. Each of them is accustomed to taking Western visitors, like us, to a regular tour of locations—hospitals, vocational centers, mining sites, and other places that represent the “face” of the conflict—and not to the places that shape their daily lives. Instead of being tour guides to the conflict, we challenged them to get away from their usual talking points and give us a “slice of life” glimpse into their daily realities.

During our trip to eastern Congo, we watched as cameraman Jeff Trussell filmed Denise for her video profile (Enough Project).

Attempting to open up this dialogue and breaking down these barriers did make for some humorous moments—mostly in the form of Denise, Amani, Fidel, Dominique, and Petna being amused by us and the process necessary to capture their stories. We’ll never forget the incredulous and bewildered look on Denise’s face when we told her we wanted to film her in an empty room holding the law school book that she grabbed when fleeing the 2002 volcanic eruption in Goma. We couldn’t get her to stop laughing at us when we had her sit in the chair—for ten or fifteen minutes—until we got the perfect shot. She jokingly swiped away her hair between takes to exaggerate her newfound “celebrity” status. 

As each person reluctantly opened up, they became more comfortable in front of the camera, and told us things and showed us places we never imagined. On our last night, Dominique invited us to join his family birthday party. He broke out his guitar and played while his wife and children sang happy birthday in broken English. As guests we had not planned to film this particular event, but found ourselves witnessing this magical family moment and wanted to capture such a genuine experience. Jeff grabbed his camera and took some footage that adds a unique personal light to Dom’s profile. The pure admiration and joy his family had in honoring him on that special day really displayed who he is as a husband and a father.

To capture Amani’s story, we visited his secondary school, the place he credits for shaping him into the person he is today. After watching some of the students play soccer in the school’s field, Robert and Amani decided to join. We had no idea that this simple action would lead Amani to open up about vivid childhood memories that have become a centerpiece in his video profile. It was Amani’s first time playing soccer in years, and  while watching his child-like glee as he lined up a shot, we knew we needed to include this aspect of his life in his video profile.  

Since our trip to Congo last fall, Amani came to the U.S. for a three-week trip to attend events and bring a local perspective to Washington. This gave us an opportunity to show Amani his video profile in person. After viewing it with us at the D.C. office, there was a long, somber pause, and we were terrified he hated it. Amani finally spoke up though, exclaiming, “No one has done this before.” He broke into a huge, proud smile, astounded by the finished product. Amani beamed, asking for a copy of the video to take back to Congo so he could show the women in his sewing center and peace market that people in the U.S. are learning about their courage and standing alongside them.

In that moment, we realized that “I Am Congo” had come full circle.  We had set out to capture Amani’s story, but he did not see it that way. Through his selfless eyes, Amani saw the video as the story of his community, his country, and everything he was fighting for.  

Watch Amani’s video below, and check out the other “I Am Congo” video profiles.