‘Viva’ gives Congo helmers hope

Hit pic may boost struggling local biz

A fast-paced gangster pic is putting a war-torn country back on the map after a long hiatus from international screens.

“Viva Riva!,” set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the first feature to be shot in the central African nation in more than two decades.

The feature debut of helmer Djo Tunda Wa Munga, pic charts the rise and fall of a young hustler who makes a fortune selling black-market gasoline in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

Pic was a surprise hit at Toronto and Berlin before scoring big at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria and winning the MTV Movie Award for African film. It was produced by Formosa (France), MG Prods. (Belgium) and Suka! (Congo), with coin from French web Canal Plus.

It has already opened in a limited U.S. release in New York and Los Angeles via Music Box.

Munga says he hopes the film’s success would spark a revival in his country’s struggling feature film biz, which has been decimated by decades of conflict.

The helmer received most of his formal training in Europe, but has since returned to Kinshasa to take other young Congolese directors under his wing.

Though it took seven years for Munga to bring his vision of “Viva” to the screen, he says that Congolese filmmakers — much like the charismatic hustler in the title role — always manage to find a way to get their films made.

“There are no difficulties that you can’t overcome in DRC, which is a great thing,” says Munga, who has also produced “Congo in Four Acts” by a quartet of local filmmakers.

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