I met some musicians one night in Goma. We were chatting and having drinks, when they asked if I would shoot a music video. Shooting a music video in the Congo? Of course I was in. The next day, we went to an old mansion on the shores of Lake Kivu. It was abandoned because volcanic fissures under the property had a tendency to kill people. But it was a breezy day and we figured it would be fine. We shot for a few hours, paid off the drunken guard who wanted to detain us, and ended up with some nice footage.
The active volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, serves as a backdrop to one of the many refugee camps in eastern Congo. Here countless families struggle to maintain life after they fled or were forced from their homes. This reality is almost un-imaginable to most westerners, yet is an all too common occurrence in Congo.
So when we returned the truck, and our fixer said, “That was not a good idea”. But my only thought was, “Obviously, we need to walk over to the elephants”. So we did, and we spent a nice moment observing each other, and then went our separate ways.
For what ever reason, the elephants seemed to tolerate our presence just fine. And lucky for me, because it was a great moment. Sometimes, well most of the times, I think it’s good to trust our instincts.
We were on the road to Numbi. The same road that, only the night before, beat our Land Cruiser into submission. And the same road considered, by many, to be the most dangerous in Congo. Which is saying a lot, because pretty much all Congo roads are dangerous. But we traded in our truck for bikes and decided to have another go at it.
We found ourselves on a thin ribbon of mud, clinging to the side of the mountains. And there was little room for error, as one side was almost always a drop off. To make maters more interesting, this was rebel territory. And white men on bikes, in a place where you never see white men on bikes, tends to draw suspicion. So we decided to move fast with limited rest breaks.
We were riding motorcycles through the night in an effort to reach Numbi. It was after midnight, and the treacherous ride had taken its toll on our bodies and motorcycles.
Exhausted, we took a break on a mountain pass. The night was dead quiet, and clear enough to see that no animals or rebels would ambush us. We did not, however, expect this amazing view. The distant volcano, Mt. Nyiragongo, was framed perfectly with Lake Kivu and a couple small towns.
For the past two years, I’ve been traveling to Congo to work with my brother on the film “This is Congo”. We traveled and filmed in places most Westerners would never go. And with good reason, it is a dangerous place to travel and very difficult place to work.
I expected we’d find conflict and suffering, which we did. The people have been beaten down by war and unpredictable atrocities for generations, yet life goes on. And while it is easy to focus on the war, this is also a place of resilient people and extreme beauty. Strong contrasts exist in DR Congo, I hope people will take the time to explore the many aspects of this amazing country.
This is a montage of my footage from the past two years of work in DR Congo. The film is now in being edited in New York and we hope to be festival ready by the fall/winter.