Directed by Joris Postema and produced by Harmen Jalvingh, the Dutch doc Stop Filming Us, about the stereotypical (some may say lazy) depiction of Africa and Africans by docmakers, picked up the main Dutch award at the Movies that Matter festival in late March.
It’s a hot topic, says producer Harmen Jalvingh, of how Africa is portrayed in documentaries commissioned for Western consumption.
He picks up the story. “Joris Postema was in Goma (DRC) ten years ago to make a film for an NGO. He had to film from a big SUV and was not allowed out of it. When in the country he only filmed from inside through open doors, and he had a hotel with a panic button. It was all very protected and it felt like the most dangerous place on earth.”
Years later joris decided that he wanted to actually return to make a film about this “most dangerous place on earth”, but this time when Postema arranged to be met by a local organisation at the border, they failed to turn up on time. He was left stranded and unprotected in a hostile place, totally at the mercy of local thugs and militia. Or so he thought…
“It actually turned out to be very nice, and he had friendly chats with people and suddenly all his prejudices were turned upside down,” says Jalvingh. “He checked into in a hotel with no barbed wire and without any panic buttons, and it turned out these people all live pretty normal lives. They get up and have breakfast and go to school, or they go to their jobs.”
“How is it possible that our perception of Goma is so different from the perception of people who actualy live in Goma? So that’s the reason why he started to make the film.”
In Stop Filming Us, Postema shows the struggle that journalist Ley Uwera, photographer Mugabo Baritegera and filmmaker Bernadette Vivuya deal with when trying to capture and show their own experience of life in Goma.
Mugabo tries to show the beauty of life there while Bernadette does everything in her power to finance a film about her vision of Goma’s colonial past. Ley also works for Western NGOs and because of this she regularly finds herself in an ideological battle: she must either work for a well-paid Western reporting organization or work unpaid as a freelance reporter but at least able to have her own opinions.
The question arises as to whether a Western filmmaker is able to capture anything of the truth about this complex, damaged and beautiful country. Is this even possible after the way that Western imagery has been used? Is the filmmaker part of the ‘white saviour complex’ and just wants to clear his conscience? Do Western ‘good intentions’ only cause destruction and frustration?
“For us as a production company it was really interesting to make a film about perception, especially in this context,” further expresses Jalvingh of his film.
“What is interesting is that we pitched this project in 2018 at IDFA Forum – and we should have filmed it – because half of the commissioning editors started to defend themselves because they realised that they themselves were responsible for broadcasting the kind of films that we were talking about. That’s why I think it is a hot topic, it’s about us. We want the world to be better and we want to show how bad it is – and instead we have the opposite effect.”
The film is currently on online on the Dutch streaming platforms Picl and Vitamine Cineville. On April 16 it will be available on the Pathé Huis VOD platform.
The Movies that Matter jury called the film “an important contribution to the crucial discussion about Western filmmaking and neocolonialism of the African content.” The film has received four stars from the noted Dutch newspapers ‘de Volkskrant’ and NRC, and ‘het Parool’ called Stop Filming Us, “a film that everyone needs to see.”