Excruciating. Excellent, but excruciating.
This is one of the only films I had to pause and walk away from and come back. So many things in this are a deeply uncomfortable watch.
So, this film starts with the intention of showing a more positive, fuller picture of life in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But quite quickly becomes about the white, Western gaze, the use of it within the media as a form of abuse and exploitation, and its continuation and perpetuation of neo-colonialism. As you may have guessed, those two goals are not really compatible, and this film is a constant struggle to succeed despite its own structure.
The director Joris, a white European, first came to Goma as a journalist, being ferried about in UN jeeps, sleeping in their heavily fortified compounds, and generally being given the impression that Goma and the DRC was one of the most dangerous places in the whole world. Now he is back and working with a local Congolese team, who are united in the goal of showing that Goma is a living city, full of people who live, work and love like any other place on earth.
But in doing this, Joris has to dig into why a positive story about the DRC isn’t being told. And we get the usual ‘white guy late to the racism party’ education curve. Everyone who has contact with him agrees that Joris is acting in good faith with good intentions, and they do help him to think more deeply about his actions, question his assumptions, and improve his practices. But it’s not really about him, that’s not really the point. As they tell him over and over again, colonialism was brought by people professing good intentions. The aid economy, which is part of the continuation of the dependence dynamic created by colonialism, is run by people professing good intentions. All the good intentions in the world don’t matter, the harm caused is what matters.
And there is unfortunately, within the film, a need for the director to clean his conscience, to be the ‘good white guy’. Its sincerity and its identifiability is what make the film so excruciating to watch at times. About halfway through the film, he takes a vote with the Congolese film crew: should he leave and let them tell this story alone? Because his presence is just undeniably skewing the film, from how people on the street react when they see him filming, to what he chooses to shoot.
They decide to let him stay, some say they want to wait and see the end product to judge. In the last scene though, after he shows the film to a Congolese audience, it is said that, yeah, he should have left. In fact, he should just start the whole project again from scratch and let only the Congolese make the film.
But, as you can see, the goal of showing a positive Goma, has now been almost entirely eclipsed by the need for the director to position himself correctly. Like it or not, intentional or not, the focus of this film gets pulled to a white guy’s journey of self-improvement at the expense of the Congolese stories.
Stop Filming Us is a film made by a white European for a white European audience. While it is a good thing that it actively interrogates the media’s involvement in the harm perpetuated upon post-colonial countries and their people, it is a discussion point for the West. The initial goal of showing a more positive Goma is achieved only partially, and does get somewhat lost amid the debate over the white Western gaze.