JOHANNESBURG — A Congolese helmer is hoping his latest film will shift focus on the nation’s women from victims to their vital roles in every aspect of daily life.

“Jazz Mama,” by Petna Ndaliko and composer Cherie Rivers, is a portrait of women living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country notorious for high levels of sexual violence against women.

The film, which blends documentary and fiction, is an attempt to upend many of the conventional ideas about the central African nation.

” ‘Jazz Mama’ is both a film and a movement,” says Rivers, “and … our mission is to bring awareness to the dignity and the strength of women in eastern Congo.”

Congo has been widely dubbed the “rape capital of the world,” and a highly publicized study this year named it the second worst place on earth to be a woman, behind only Afghanistan.

But Rivers argues that such portrayals by Western media continue to victimize women in the country.

“A lot of these women are doing extraordinary things, and are the pillars of their communities,” she says.

Ndaliko and Rivers have used the pic as a platform for a broader discussion on the Congo’s rape crisis and the way Congolese women are portrayed by the media.

Working through Yole! Africa, a nonprofit cultural center founded by Ndaliko in eastern Congo in 2000, they’ve jump-started an initiative to train aspiring filmmakers in the region as part of the center’s Alternative to TV program.

The project, says Rivers, is geared toward “giving young people the skills and the critical thought necessary to be able to start to represent their own stories.”

Their pics — many of which confront the rape crisis — are shown at monthly community screenings and followed by lively discussions. Both the films and discussion transcripts are then posted on the “Jazz Mama” website, allowing fans to interact around the world.

Ndaliko and Rivers have built partnerships with a number of American universities, and just recently finished a U.S. tour of college campuses.

Rivers says it’s an important step toward showing the world that Congolese women are not victims, but the backbone of their nation.