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Djo Munga Celebrates “Viva Riva!”

Djo Munga Celebrates “Viva Riva!” (photo)

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When the budding gangster Riva first lays eyes on the flame-haired Nora, the arm candy of an abusive thug she’s itching to distance herself from, she’s crouched behind the club relieving herself in the most unladylike of ways. It’s not the meet cute that you’d expect to spark a life-changing love affair, but then again there’s not much about the Congolese thriller “Viva Riva!” that could be expected, including its very making. The film is the feature debut of Djo Munga, a Belgian-schooled native of Kinshasa who returned to Africa to create a film with the flavors of the sweaty Brian De Palma slow burns and gritty Sergio Leone westerns he grew up with, but with plenty of local spice.

“Viva Riva!” isn’t just a first for Munga, but one for the region as a whole since it’s been over 20 years – a span of time in which the Congolese have seen plenty of turbulence between war and poverty – that a film has been released beyond its borders. Knowing this, “Viva Riva!” doesn’t tiptoe into the story of Riva, a smooth operator whose scheme of filching gas from Cesar, his boss in Angola, to sell at marked-up rates in the parched Kinshasa threatens to collapse in on itself when Cesar’s suspicions lead him up north and Riva’s too busy wooing Nora away from her kingpin boyfriend to notice. Just as Riva must evade enemies and grease the palms of local authorities at a rapid clip, Munga had to overcome a largely inexperienced crew and a meager budget to turn “Viva Riva!” into something that makes up for its almost refreshing lack of professional polish with raw energy.

Already eager to capitalize on his first gangster film with another about the invasion of Chinese gangs into the area, Munga took the time to talk about his take on film noir, establishing filmmaking roots in the Congo, and why being kicked out of film school might’ve been the best thing that ever happened to him.

How did you first get interested in filmmaking?

By accident, actually. I studied fine art and was lucky before going to university [that] I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. That feeling about becoming a painter or do advertising or do some graphic work – it was not clear. And I went to a workshop about film and the trainer of that workshop was a great independent director and said, “Why don’t you try film school?” That was the beginning.

It sounds like you were considering a career in something visual, regardless.

Yes. I’ve drawn all my life and it came naturally to evolve to making films when I look at it retrospectively. Visually, I’ve evolved in all these worlds, so it makes sense to me to make film.

VivaRiva2_06062011.jpgHow did you get interested in making this film?

I wanted to talk about Kinshasa, my hometown. I spent a lot of time abroad and my idea was how to depict the different tone of the city and the different characters, the good and evil, and also have a sense of the last 20 years of history of Kinshasa. Then I met these smugglers who operate from Angola. They go to Angola, they smuggle shoes to Kinshasa, they sell them, they make money, they party like hell and after they’re broke, they come back to Angola and that’s the cycle. I [found] it interesting as a good portrayal of the young in Kinshasa today. That was the introduction, then I started to develop the story of the former boss following them to Kinshasa to give it a different angle. [Then having Riva] falling in love with Nora, the beautiful, dangerous woman who is also in prison – that complex love story, and the collapse of the family — they’re all these elements, but the main focus was to talk about Kinshasa.

Why did the gangster genre seem like the proper genre to tell this story?

It was because when you think about making a film in Africa today, it was important to make a film that would be accessible to the masses. We need to have people to embrace cinema. The genre film, the film noir was exciting in that sense. The [touchstones] are easy, the femme fatale, the money, the villains – it’s all simple and works together and inside of that, I can put some social elements [and] the complexity of the town.

One of your student films had actually been barred from competition because it didn’t depict Africa in a particular way.

Yes, [by] the head of the film school. Absolutely.

Have you encountered that resistance throughout your career and has that been something that’s driven you to make the types of films you make?

It’s a struggle for us Africans to get back our own image because the problem that I had at the time in film school was the imagery that the director wanted about Africa were these images that had nothing to do with me, with my life and my work. It was just this vision that Africa should be stuck into a model, basically a Western vision, so I disagreed with him. In a way, I was fired from school. But I think it’s a struggle we still have today in terms of needing a filmmaker to bring stories that are challenging that stigma we may have about our society. That’s part of the job also.

VivaRiva3_06062011.jpgWhat was the film about?

“Auguy” was a really simple story of a little boy living with his sister and they don’t receive any money anymore from their parents back home, so the sister starts prostituting to help pay for [the boy’s] school, but he doesn’t understand that. He gets angry with her, but at the same time, is also kicked out school, so that is this moment in life where someone is lost.

I’ve read it wasn’t until you brought it to the Toronto Film Festival that you decided to make a film back in Kinshasa. What was it about the experience that made you want to return?

What happened with my short film, which in a way was banned from the school and the way it came to Toronto, the audience grasped it in such an enthusiastic way, it gave me a lesson. I understood if I could focus on writing the story and writing proper story, even if they were characters that I found were closer to my environment of my world, I couldn’t reach out to the audience. Toronto in 2000 was a confirmation that I was right to be kicked out of school, but gave me the strength to say, I can just go back to Kinshasa, focusing on making films and telling stories and it will travel.

When you spend time away, was it interesting for you to have memories of your youth competing with the current situation there as a reference point for your film?

I wrote the script seven years ago when I was in Kinshasa and I ended up shooting the film several years after, so I was an older director looking at a younger scriptwriter. With my experience, I only used the memory not so much in a romantic [way], but just to have little notes about the past. The problem of the family and the trauma they have, it was not so much about the past, but focusing on what’s happening now. Maybe I’ll make a film really about the past [one day]. But this film is about today. It’s about the last 15 years, but also about how it looks in South Africa today, how are the dynamics today. For example, we have the war in the Congo. We have the civil war in the east and how do you [show] that? Am I going to make a sequence where people are fighting? Maybe I won’t do that. I’ll put more like the torture scene, which looks like many kind of torture that you can have with militias in the inland. The past is kind of a reference, but we picture how it looks today.

VivaRiva1_06062011.jpgIn regards to coming back, was it difficult filming in a place where there’s no organized film industry?

That depends on how you [define] the difficulty. I’ve organized a training program and I’ve helped train people to get work in the industry, so I didn’t suffer from that because it was all in the journey of making the film. If I compare to my colleagues in Europe, they don’t have to do that. They don’t have to just organize everything because overseas, they have everything. They can just make their film. But at the same time, maybe you don’t have the organization, but you have so many nice stories in the Congo. You have so much freedom of expression. You have so many possibilities that you’re able to compensate in a way.

Did this production plant the seed for further ones if you built a local crew?

I would love to. I didn’t start it with the purpose of getting to that point. But then that’s what I was talking about this organic process. You can’t really control what’s happening. You start something with one idea in mind and you let that thing grow and then you have to interact with new things and people. Maybe this is the seed for the future. I don’t know. I hope. We have been also quite successful in the production that we did with the documentaries, “Congo in Four Acts” [for example], and you also have these new filmmakers, but there’s still a lot, lot, lot of work to be done in the Congo.

The film won a bunch of awards regionally, but what kind of reaction have you had from the people of Kinshasa since it’s a culture that doesn’t often see themselves onscreen?

Actually, people were really overwhelmed by the film because it was not only like that’s the first film, that’s our film. People really liked it – they embraced it. Every week I receive e-mails from Congolese from all over the world with articles, who have seen the trailer, so the same things come back to say “Thanks, man. Our country’s back on track. This is to prove we can do it.” All these really nice comments that I keep and I like it, it’s nice.

Has it carried pressure for you being one of the few to do it?

I don’t think about that. [laughs] [I have enough pressure] in my daily life as a filmmaker, I don’t want to add some new things on it.

“Viva Riva” opens in limited release on June 10th.

Will you see “Viva Riva!” in theaters? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.