Magazine article Screen International

Kinshasa Kids

Magazine article Screen International

Kinshasa Kids

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Marc-Henri Wajnberg. Belgium-France. 2012. 85mins

Weaving in and out between documentary and drama, Belgian director Marc-Henri Wajnberg's first feature for almost 20 years tells the sometimes horrifying, sometimes uplifting story of a group of street kids from Kinshasa in the Congo, cast out from their families after being suspected of harbouring evil demons, who find some kind of redemption through music.

Amidst the misery, it's music that brings relief when a flamboyant Congolese rapper called Bebson 'De la Rue' takes the kids in hand and gives some structure to their nascent musical talents.

The toughness and resilience of these abandoned youngsters is mirrored by the feistiness of a film crew that keeps shooting through police checks and bystander interference, in a series of near-documentary scenes that seem unscripted. In the end, though, Kinshasa Kids is most obviously a feel-good story in the long-running 'society outcasts form a band and achieve success' genre - and it's here that it doesn't quite deliver.

Tough to watch at times, at others self-consciously artsy in its repeated breaking of the fourth wall, Kinshasa Kids may struggle to find the sort of sensitive general audience it deserves. But more festival play is assured after the film's Venice Days, Toronto and New York autumn rollout, and targeted distribution via conscious-raising events and charities like War Child is one possible way to attract a wider public.

No slow starter, the film opens with a harrowing scene of terrified, crying kids, some of them still toddlers, being subjected to exorcism in a ritual involving chicken innards and dead lizards. 'Child witches are the root of all Kinshasa's problems", a mother fulminates - a widespread belief that is quantified in a closing caption. It seems that around 25,000 kids under the age of 18 live on the streets of the Democratic Republic of Congo's dirty, sprawling capital, many of them thrown out of their families after being suspected of being shegue, or sorcerers.

Shot with handheld verve, Kinshasa Kids follows a loose band of eight youngsters who hang out together and sleep on the rooftops of jerrybuilt shop and buildings.

They make a living out of odd jobs and petty theft; the girls are constantly at the risk of rape (one is played by Rachel Mwanza, who won a Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale for her role in War Witch - a film that was actually shot after Wajnberg discovered her on the street and cast her in Kinshasa Kids). …

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