Djo Munga was born in 1972 in Kinshasa, DR Congo. He spent his childhood in the capital – under Mobutu’s dictatorship – and left for Belgium at the age of nine. After 5 years in a catholic boarding school at College St Augustine, he joined a fine Arts school in Brussels, before enrolling at the National Film School of Belgium, INSAS.
The end of Mobutu’s dictatorship seemed the promise of a bright future, but it didn’t last long. Just before completing his studies, Munga returned to Kinshasa regularly to prepare for a life as a filmmaker. As war broke out in 1998 and the country descended into chaos, he took on a variety of jobs back and forth between Belgium and Congo: journalist and assistant director in Congo, a driver at the weekend, and staff member in a psychiatric centre for Children in Belgium.
His big break came as a production manager came with a BBC production in 2002 that told the story of King Leopold II’s life and his brutal looting of Congo. An indirect adaptation of Adam Hochschild’s best-selling book ‘The King Leopold’s Ghost’, the film was a huge TV success. Many historical film productions followed: The Cuban odyssey in Africa, the Scandinavians presence in Congo, as well as many stints for foreign correspondents. It was through this work that Munga was shocked to discover the highly selective view of Congo held by foreigners, a view that seemed to bear little resemblance to every day Congolese life. This started to sow the seed in him of a desire to create a very different narrative about the Congolese, something that would strongly emerge in his work later.
Following the first election in 45 years, the country was “legal” again. Munga set up his own production company in Kinshasa and made films for numerous broadcasters, inernational development agencies as well as the World Bank. It was a very sobering experience of the relationship between North and South and the bitter ironies of the news and aid trade, neither of which profit from things actually improving on the ground: the foreign correspondents because bad news sells better, and aid organisations because they wouldn’t exist if they were not needed.
His second breakthrough came with a documentary production of his students, Congo in 4 Acts. An instant hit amongst festival goers, the film won many awards all over the world, touring in more than 45 countries, and earning Munga the trailblazer awards at MIPTV in Cannes. He used this exposure to set up a film school in DRC – the first and only of its kind in the country.
His first feature film, Viva Riva, also toured the world, from Toronto Film Festival to Berlinale, and sold to Netflix. It received 12 nominations and won 6 awards at the 7th Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography & Best Production Design, making it the highest winning film in the history of the AMAA’s to date. It also won at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards for Best African Movie.