African movies -- as we Africans know -- are big business; the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is the 3rd largest in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. However, most non-Africans have no idea about our films. Mostly because they never get to see our movies.
This is starting to change though with a new wave of African cinema which has the potential to cross over. In fact, some of these movies are now being picked up by American/European studios and production companies. It's about time too.
Viva Riva is one for you to keep your eye out for. It's a gritty, well-shot and well-directed movie set in contemporary Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact, it's the first film to be made there in over 20 years.
Yes, it features themes that are typical of most drama/action movies: corruption, heady sex, wanton murder, and underworld activities. There's the beautiful light-skinned vixen, the gun-toting gangsters and the champagne drinking newbie criminal. So far, so normal you'd think. However, rather than just being there for the sake of titillation or sensationalization -- as they often are in many movies -- each of these themes tells a tale about the often-unspoken realities of life in the city of the Kinshasha where the movie is set.
The criminal activity centers around the stealing of gasoline, which as we know is tied to the power available in African cities. The sex provides an insight into some of the little-told realities of Kinshasha life, where such open discussions of sex are considered taboo. Viva Riva is the tale of Riva (Patsha Bay), a small time operator who has just returned to his hometown of Kinshasa, Congo after a decade away, with a major score: a fortune in hijacked gasoline. Wads of cash in hand and out for a good time, Riva is soon entranced by beautiful nightclub denizen Nora (Paris-based actress Manie Malone in her screen debut), the kept woman of a local gangster. Into the mix comes an Angolan crime lord Cesar (New York-based African Academy Award winner Hoji Fortuna) relentlessly seeking the return of his stolen shipment of gasoline.
Already the film has picked up several awards including Best Narrative Film at the Los Angeles Pan-African Film Festival. It has also won six African Movie Academy Awards including Best Film and Best Director.
It is described by writer-director-producer Djo Tunda Wa Munga as "a true African film" and not just one made by Africans for Europeans. This is important.
The film comes to the street promoted by African Celebrity Activist and Film Promoter Suzanne Africa Engo, who is launching a new initiative called The New African Empower -- designed to extend empowerment through entertainment -- which features Viva Riva as its first project: "This film is directed by Africans starring Africans and is shot in Africa. This is a new wave of creating room for Africans in the entertainment space. This time it's not just about charity it's about opportunity."
The new African Empower will host a Viva Riva premiere in New York in early June. It will be in theaters June 10th in NY and LA and then rolling out across the country all summer.