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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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